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Raising Your Child’s Intelligence

May, 2012
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screen-shot-2012-05-07-at-14224-am“Mensa welcomes two-year-old into its ranks, second toddler this year” – this is the headline of a recent news article on Yahoo.com.

The news reports that Anthony Popa Urria is the youngest Canadian ever admitted into Mensa and has an estimated IQ (intelligence quotient) of 154. The toddler can recite the alphabet backwards and forwards, count to 1,000 and name the planets in the solar system…

Most parents want their children as smart and intelligent as little Anthony Popa Urria, I believe. For centuries, people have been interested in the concept of “intelligence.” How to define it, how to measure it and more importantly what to do to increase the intelligence of human beings?

Simon Binet was commissioned in 1904 by the French government to develop the first IQ test called the Binet-Simon Scale. The French government wanted a way to identify which children needed special help in school. From the very beginning, IQ tests were devised to predict academic success.

In general, the correlation between IQ and academic grades is about 0.50. In the late 1970s studies showed that IQ is predictive of your occupational attainment, as measured by your income, which is associated with your social class. Overall, research shows that with a higher IQ, children are more likely to get better grades in school and to get a better job making more money. No wonder parents want their children to be more intelligent!

img_1081-copyIn a recent parents’ workshop at Beijing City International School, Dr. Reed Rhodes, the learning support teacher for the Lower Elementary School, conducted a workshop entitled “Raising Your Child’s Intelligence.” Participants in this workshop learned how to define and measure intelligence, the two types of intelligence, and varieties of intelligence. They also learned some interesting information about what IQ scores predict and why IQ scores have been increasing worldwide over the past half century.

“In the international school setting, when I have questions about how best to teach a child who is struggling in school, I may request that parents contact a multidisciplinary clinic to obtain a psycho-educational assessment which will include an IQ test,” says Dr. Rhodes. “In these cases, the results of an IQ test, along with other assessment data, provide teachers with specific strategies for working with students who are experiencing difficulties in learning.

“If your child is succeeding at school and meeting grade level expectations, there is no need to have your child’s IQ tested.”

Intelligence has a broader meaning than the IQ scores.

What is the definition of intelligence? The definition used by Dr. James Nisbett in his book Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count (2009) comes from Dr. Linda Gottfredson of the University of Delaware. She defines intelligence as “a very general mental capability that…involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience.” This, of course, is a very Western definition, and it represents only one variety of intelligence – analytical. Developmental psychologist Robert Sternberg has suggested two other types – practical and creative intelligence. Obviously, intelligence is a multi-faceted concept.

Intelligence is defined differently in different cultures. However, most cultures would include such things as the ability to reason, to think abstractly, and to acquire knowledge. Some East Asian and African cultures would include social abilities, such as empathy, in their idea of intelligence. Children are not equally intelligent, just as they are not equally tall. There are two types of intelligence: Crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence. Most people think of crystallized intelligence when they think about being smart. It is the storage of information you have about the world and the ways you use this information to help you make sense of the world. Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, is the ability to solve new, abstract problems. The trajectories across our lifetimes are different for each type. Fluid intelligence begins to wane when we reach our 20s while crystallized intelligence continues to grow until our 60s or 70s, hence the image of the venerable professor.

How can parents help to increase the intelligence of their children?

If you are the parent of a child under two years of age, you are probably doing all the right things already, such as reading to your child, encouraging exploration of the environment, talking to your child using rich vocabulary, teaching your child how to categorize and explain similarities, and providing a wide assortment of stimulating activities.

Next, regardless of your child’s age, Dr. Rhodes recommends that you “model self-discipline for your children because children often do what they see significant adults in their lives do.”

By now most of us have heard of the 1960s experiment by Walter Mischel at a Stanford University nursery school in which experimenters placed four-year-old children in a room with one marshmallow and told them they could eat that one marshmallow or have two marshmallows when the experimenter returned. As you might expect, some of the children ate the one marshmallow right away. Others were able to delay gratification until the experimenter returned. Mischel and his colleagues followed these children until they completed high school. Amazingly the children who had delayed gratification scored 200 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). More recently Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman studied self-discipline with a group of 8th graders. They used standardized instruments to rate the students on multiple measures of self-discipline and also gathered ratings from their teachers and parents. The overall final ratings of self-discipline were twice as good as IQ as a predictor of final grades, attendance, and standardized test scores. It makes sense that students who can delay impulsive urges and spend time studying will make better grades. And, especially in the US, Asian students in general show stronger self-discipline and achieve better than their Western counterparts, not because they are more intelligent, but because they work harder.

After that, parents need to do something that is counterintuitive to parents from the West, but notto parents from the East, especially China – praise your child for working hard, not for being smart. Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck and her colleagues have shown that both parents and teachers can instill a ‘growth mindset’ in children that allows them to see effort as a positive thing, encourages them to embrace challenges, helps them develop resilience when they encounter setbacks, and fosters the growth of ability over time. Dweck has even created a program called Brainology to teach this ‘growth mindset’ to children from grades 5 through 9.

Schools make children smarter; and it is said “1 year of school is worth 2 years of age for IQ.”

A good first step is for schools to hire the best teachers. Interestingly, there is no research showing that having certain credentials, such as the National Board certification in the US, or having advanced degrees, makes someone a better teacher. Curricula that use cooperative learning as a way to engage students is another way that schools can help make children smarter.

We know that students lose math skills over the summer, so it is wise for parents to be creative in the way they ‘encourage’ their children to practice. The arrival of iPad apps has revolutionized practice sessions. Do a little research and buy a wide array of such apps. Dr. Rhodes also recommends that the children with difficulties in reading and spelling use computer-assisted instruction to practice and develop fluency. The key advantages of using computer technology are the high level of engagement and the immediate feedback provided to the child.

Besides this, Dr. Rhodes has recommended some websites to the parents regarding raising children’s intelligence.

Executive functions, such as working memory, attention control, and inhibition control, are thought to underlie fluid intelligence. If you suspect that your child has problems with executive functions, then check out a website with sample exercises used by researcher Rosaria Rueda (http://www.teach-the- brain.org/learn/attention/index.htm).

If you want to help your middle school child to develop a ‘growth mindset’ then check out http://www.mindsetworks.com/). There is a fee for a six-month access to the website. If you are confused about when to praise your children and what to praise them for, another website to check out (http://www.parentingscience.com/) offers practical advice for parents from Gwen Dewar, a biological anthropologist. 


By XING Yangjian

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