5. BE A GUIDE, NOT A COACH
Ultimately, the relationship between a child and his parents and teachers shapes his attitude toward learning. Aim to be a gentle guide, not a high-pressure coach. "Rather than ask, 'Is this kid counting better than others?' ask, 'Am I supporting what's interesting and exciting to my child?' " says Alison Steier, Ph.D., director of clinical training at the Arizona Institute for Early Childhood Development.
Cecilia Jerkatis says her son Kyle, 3, keeps her on her toes as she looks for stimulating activities for him. Yet at the same time that the Albuquerque mom wonders whether her clever, verbal boy is gifted, she also wonders whether the label matters. "I think we're here to support their development, whatever their interests are," she says.
Just don't think you have to drive yourself (or your kid) crazy signing him up for teams and classes to find activities he loves. Simply exposing him to different experiences will spark things that "click." Build on his interests. If he likes dinosaurs, find books and movies about them, or visit a museum. You don't need to sit down and "teach" anything.
Above all, don't overfocus on cognitive abilities. "You also want your child to be resilient, empathetic, and creative," says the NAGC's Schader. And you both want to enjoy his childhood. "I do forget Kyle is three," says Jerkatis. "Then once in a while he gets a little whiny and I remember."
So relax. The best gift your child can have is the gift of time with you. Reading, singing, playing, dancing, catching fireflies -- it's all good. The rest is gravy.
Paula Spencer is the coauthor, with Jill Stamm, Ph.D., of Bright From the Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind (Gotham).