The first rule is to never let the kid see you sweat. When your kid is smarter than you are (and aren’t all kids smarter than their parents), perfect your comeback. This is critical. Think of it as a one-size-fits-all response, although in reality your retort will be more like one-size-almost-fits-all. Mine is: “Save it for the Supreme Court.” My children often run concentric circles around me in an argument. I never succumb to temptation and tell them “Because I’m the mother.” This is lame—you know it, and your kid knows it.
Bribery works; I’m not above it and neither should you be. It has circumvented many stalled arguments in my house. Just about anything is bribable with younger kids. Finishing all your peas, successfully going to the potty, staying in bed until a parent is ready to wake up. Promise him a toy, a movie, a playdate at Chuck E. Cheese. I think it’s a fair tradeoff for a bit of peace and quiet. Older kids are trickier and more expensive to bribe. But for your kid, who is almost certainly smarter than you are, bribery might be the way to go before her logic exhausts you. Yes, that shirt at Urban Outfitters can be yours. There are exclusions: no electronics or personal digital assistants. Does your 15 year-old really need an iPhone? Is he expecting breaking news from his stockbroker?
The kid who is smarter than you are can jump and twist through loopholes like a gymnast. And don’t be surprised when your kid finds these loopholes in your arguments quicker than a tax accountant. Be prepared to plug those holes even if you have to be irrational. But don’t threaten to lock your kid in his room until he’s 35. Hyperbole makes you look foolish. Remember you’re the parent and you have the final word, but don’t tell that to your kid.
Homework is a convoluted problem in our house. My children do it, but sometimes the distractions of YouTube and Facebook extend doing homework into the wee hours of the morning. When I threaten to take away the computer, Adam will gleefully tell me that he can’t do homework without access to the Internet. I grudgingly admit that this is partially true since assignments are posted on-line. And yet just when I think I’ve cornered him—can’t you make note of your assignments and then work off-line—he’ll walk right through a gaping loophole and mutter something about teachers posting work at different times. He makes it sound as if his teachers are living in different time zones.
Under no circumstances should you say, “I’m not made of money” or “I don’t have a money tree in the backyard.” Your smarter-than-you-are kid will point out simple biology. People are composed of flesh and blood and cells and DNA. Trees only bear fruit, silly Daddy. And whatever you do, don’t spell. It doesn’t matter how young the child is. Somewhere along the line, this child who is so much smarter than you are, learned to spell while you were distracted.
If speaking in a foreign language is an option for you, don’t assume your kid won’t understand—especially if your smart kid is learning that language in school. Unless it’s your first language, when your kid asks you how to say words like “engulfed” or “mission accomplished,” you probably don’t know. Take me as an example. I speak a kitchen Spanish and I read the language at a fourth or fifth grade level. Your very smart kid knows this when he asks you to help him translate a Borges story. After all, it’s fun for them to see you squirm in a language that was once your secret code.
When you tell your very smart daughter that to be treated like an adult she must act like an adult, she’ll say something like she can legally buy cigarettes and a lottery ticket. Refrain from telling her that in the old country she would have been running a farm and pregnant with her second child at her age. You’ll look and sound ridiculous. (Remember hyperbole always backfires with the smarter-than-you-are kid).
Don’t lie to your child about your checkered past. Since this is a family paper, suffice it to say your kid knows you had boyfriends or girlfriends and that you may have tried cigarettes in the past. Simply tell the child that you are happily married or more mature and that you are a former smoker. All you can do is pray that your kid doesn’t repeat your folly by justifying that if you did that stuff so can she.
Please note again that retorts rarely work so don’t make a sweeping statement like “Someday you’ll understand when you’re a parent.” Kids can’t see that far ahead. You’re smart enough to know that. And you’re smart enough to know that your very smart kid is just that—a child or a young adult casting about for experience. Remember that, please, because you’re the parent and you have to.