7 signs your child is highly intelligent, according to psychology

Being highly intelligent is about far more than doing well in a classroom.

Although some clever kids excel academically, not all will.

The truth is that being smart can shine through in a variety of ways, many of which are unexpected and have zilch to do with their grades.

In my experience, most parents like to think of their kids as particularly clever.

But are you right?

Let’s look at some of the psychological signs to watch out for that confirm your child is highly intelligent.

1) They’re constantly asking “But, why?”

To a parent, it can be annoying as heck.

Every answer you give them doesn’t seem to cut it. There is always a follow-up question.

Why is the sky blue?

Why is the sea salty?

Why doesn’t the sun fall out of the sky?

Let’s face it, some of the things children ask us can leave us stumped.

Yet asking questions is a sign of an inquisitive nature.

According to psychology curiosity is a powerful indicator of intelligence.

You’ve likely heard of IQ as a measure of intellect, but what about CQ?

Well, according to psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, it is just as relevant.

“CQ stands for curiosity quotient and concerns having a hungry mind. People with higher CQ are more inquisitive and open to new experiences. They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist.”

A child that is constantly asking questions is reflective of a desire to learn about new things, to experience new ideas, and to discover the world around them.

2) They like to do things their way

Even a little bit of disobedience isn’t a bad thing, not when it comes to intelligence anyway.

That’s because independent children learn to figure things out for themselves.

I know as parents, we often feel like it’s our job to solve their problems for them. Yet this can be counterproductive.

Instead, offering guidance but encouraging them to reflect for themselves has been shown to be more beneficial.

Psychologists say this so-called authoritative parenting makes kids more confident, boosts academic success, gives them better social skills, and improves their problem-solving.

If you have a particularly stubborn child, it may offer some comfort to know that research says rule-breaking kids go on to earn more money as grown-ups.

As Dena Kouremetis points out in Psychology Today, smart certainly doesn’t mean problem-free.

“Apple founder Steve Jobs was bright – even considered gifted – but he was a troublemaker, making his parents wring their hands in despair from time to time. Sir Richard Branson, who struggled with dyslexia, nearly flunked out of school before starting his own youth-culture magazine at age 16 and going on to form huge companies later in life.”

So although it quite literally pays to think for yourself, that may mean you can have a harder time disciplining a free-thinking intelligent kid. 

According to licensed social worker Jillian Amodio, a headstrong child is a gift as well as a challenge.

“Strong-willed children are intelligent, self-assured, confident, inquisitive, curious, and more. They question authority, they have strong opinions, and they often have big personalities.”

So next time you get back-chat, grit your teeth and tell yourself that independent thought is a sign they are smart.

3) They excel in some areas but may struggle in others

One common mistake when it comes to measuring intelligence is trying to narrowly define it.

We have a stereotypical image of what intellect looks like in someone, but we can get it oh so wrong.

The reality is that intelligence has a wide-ranging scope. It’s far from about how high your IQ is. Chances are, there are many types of intelligence you never even knew existed.

That’s why your child can excel in certain areas yet struggle in others and still be incredibly intelligent.

In fact, research shows that highly gifted kids may have incredible skills and talents beyond their years, but find basic tasks, like tying their shoelaces, difficult.

Psychologists refer to this as asynchronous development. It means children appear to have uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development.

As pointed out in VeryWell Family it’s more common with incredibly intelligent kids.

“In gifted children, the development of those areas can be out of “sync.” The gifted child’s intellectual development can be more advanced than her physical and emotional development, which progress at a different rate. For example, a gifted 5-year-old can be discussing the problem of world hunger one minute and the next minute throwing a tantrum because he has to go to bed.”

4) They have a great imagination

as a boss mom i prided myself on doing it all people admired me for juggling kids and a career the reality i yearned for a simpler more intentional life with my family 7 signs your child is highly intelligent, according to psychology

The ability to have original thoughts is a big sign of intellect. It’s all part of creative thinking.

In children, this can show up in vivid imaginations and fanciful play.

In fact, as many as 37% of very gifted kids are reported to have invented imaginary playmates in their youth.

Your child may love to tell you stories they’ve made up. Perhaps they like to create plays and performances to put on for you. Or they may excel in artistic projects and drawing.

It can show up in very subtle ways too. For example, clever kids find it easier to identify strongly with characters in their favorite books, movies, and TV shows.

Essentially, they make up imaginary worlds and love to make-believe.

Sometimes it may seem like your child is lost in thought, but their mind wandering can be a good sign, as pointed out in Psychology Today.

“Daydreaming is an information-processing state that combines knowledge and imagination, the dynamic duo. Being more imaginative allows a person to make creative connections and inferences using their past experience and knowledge base. As a result, research indicates that more robust daydreaming is associated with superior intelligence.”

5) They often sound like mini-adults

Some children seem wise beyond their years. After all, kids can say some profound things.

Yet it’s not just the sort of things they say, it might also be that they have verbal skills beyond their years.

So much so that it may feel like your child can comfortably keep up with adults in conversation or much older children.

Increased vocabulary, early reading ability, and creating complex structures are yet more hallmarks of increased IQ children.

As many as 91% of extremely intelligent children show early language development.

Whereas normal babies tend to say their first words around 12 months of age, for the particularly gifted, it can be as early as 9 months old. 

You may notice their reading habits appear more advanced and they gravitate towards challenging books.

As well as a wide-ranging vocabulary, they could also be capable of grasping complex abstract and figurative language.

Yet not all children who are very smart will show greater language abilities. It’s reported that  Albert Einstein for example didn’t speak until he was four.

It all goes back to the large variations in how intelligence shows up, which is unique to the individual.

6) They are a sensitive soul

When I was growing up, it seemed as though the kids who excelled at math or science were considered the clever ones.

Yet we cannot overlook the significance and value of emotional intelligence.

For starters, studies have proven that prosocial children are smarter.

Higher intelligence contributes to emotional sensitivity and a greater concern for others.

Neuroscientists have also observed that gifted children can struggle more with intense emotional reactions, because of the way they are wired.

So highly intelligent children may also be particularly sensitive, passionate, and empathetic.

They may seemingly go through the occasional existential crisis, worrying about the meaning of life, about death, or bad things happening in the world.

That’s because they are deep thinkers and deep feelers.

This added depth is potentially one of the reasons that many geniuses can be more prone to mental health struggles.

7) They easily get bored

signs your kid is struggling with anxiety according to psychology 7 signs your child is highly intelligent, according to psychology

Here’s another one that turns stereotypes on their head.

Because rather than quietly go away and keep themselves endlessly entertained, boredom can be an issue for highly intelligent kids who are full of energy.

This disinterest often arrives when they don’t feel challenged.

It means that they won’t necessarily get better grades or do any better in school than any other kids.

Here’s a useful reminder for all of us parents:

Being good at something doesn’t mean we’re interested in it.

This means that your child may excel in a subject, but don’t assume that they will therefore automatically enjoy it and seek to apply themselves.

Psychologists say that the smartest kids often need extra stimulation to stay engaged.

But if we want to get the best out of them, psychology professor David Lubinski says we have to tap into what appeals to them.

“When it comes to doing what’s best for a gifted student, it’s just as important for parents and educators to know what the student is passionate about rather than pigeonholing them in traditionally ‘smart’ fields and registering them in a bunch of STEM courses.”

Final thoughts: Intellect isn’t fixed

Okay, some of it undeniably comes down to genetics, and there’s not much we can do about that.

It means that some children are naturally highly intelligent. Yet it’s also true that the brain is like a muscle.

The more you flex it, the stronger it gets.

Researchers have also concluded that the more mistakes we make through learning, the more neural connections we make.

That’s why regardless of how smart your child already is, finding ways to challenge and enrich them will help their intellect to grow.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

Enhance your experience of Ideapod and join Tribe, our community of free thinkers and seekers.

Related articles

Most read articles

Get our articles

Ideapod news, articles, and resources, sent straight to your inbox every month.