Your kid’s IQ

Is your kid a brain at school? Do all her friends want to borrow her arithmetic book overnight? Are you thinking doctor, lawyer, bigwig executive for her future? Grades and IQ, these are the barometers we as parents, teachers, and, for that matter, society in general use to measure children’s what?–ability to adapt, think abstractly, and solve problems at a particular point in time–which is what it does. No, instead we translate IQ into career, money, prestige–all the things we think smart people have.

In the long run IQ does not spell success. Intelligence scores overlook a critical part of the success formula–motivation–which explains why all those mediocre kids you never bothered to sit beside during a science exam now have a practice in law or dentistry and live in the ritzy part of town. It also explains all those brains that grew up to take menial jobs.

The road to your child’s success, and even more importantly happiness, is not paved in brains. Some, yes. But in addition you need to ask yourself questions like these: how hard does your child try on his math exam or building a model airplane? does she care about other people’s feelings? does he help out around the house? can your child take a joke? does he use common sense? does she feel confident in trying something new? does your child know what his limitations are? does he keep at challenges even when things go wrong? does she have friends? do you like your kid? The point is, the success formula is long. Your fooling yourself if you think you’ve got it made with a kid who never fails to bring home a straight “A” report card. Just think of all the brainy propeller heads you know at work, which you never have to time to go for a beer with. Is that what you want your kid to become?

Getting back to the meaning of intelligence: what do you think it is? Most people think intelligence indicates how smart you are compared to other people. This implies intelligence is a quantity reflecting your ability to learn new material or solve problems. We now know intelligence is more than this–theorists however can’t agree on what more is. Even today they can’t settle on the origins, structure, and stability of attributes that belong to intelligence.

One current theory, the information-processing view, emphasizes three parts of intelligent behavior: context of the action, experience with the task, and the information-processing strategies used to figure out problems. By context they mean how well your child can adapt to his environment or shape his environment to suit him better (his practical wisdom or street smarts). Experience is important because novel tasks are the best measures of your child’s ability to reason and generate new ideas. You know yourself, things are always easier the second time around. Information-processing strategies look at how well your child develops canned sets or shortcuts for doing everyday tasks. For instance, most kids figure out ways of cutting down the time it takes them to do their chores.

The most frequently used test in schools today is The Wechsler Intelligence Test for Children-Revised (WISC-R). It has two types of questions: verbal and performance. These questions range from easy to hard. The examiner gives progressively harder questions until the child can’t answer anymore questions at a particular level. Verbal sections include (1) General Information–questions on a number of topics which children presumably have learned. An example of a question for 6-7 year-olds is, “How many legs does a dog have?” while a question geared to 14-16 year-olds is, “In what direction does the sun set?”; (2) General Comprehension–children explain what to do in particular situations and why we follow certain practices. An example is, “What is the thing to do if a boy (girl) much smaller than yourself starts to fight with you?”; (3) Arithmetic–simple arithmetic problems children must figure out in their heads; (4) Similarities–children must explain how two items are the same. One of the questions is, “In what way are an apple and a banana alike?”; (5) Vocabulary–children are asked the meaning of increasingly difficult words such as hat, gamble, and affliction; (6) Digit Span–the examiner presents lists of numbers aloud and children must repeat them in order and backwards.

Performance scales include (1) Picture Completion–children identify the missing part from a picture, for example a woman’s mouth; (2) Picture Arrangement–children arrange sets of picture cards so they tell a story; (3) Block Design–children are given a set of blocks with red on two sides, white on two sides, and red/white on two sides. They must recreate the pattern shown by their examiner; (4) Object Assembly–children put together puzzles of items like a horse and a face; (5) Coding–a code substitution test in which symbols are paired with pictures or digits; (6) Mazes–children must find their way out of mazes presented on paper.

The most common score children get on intelligence tests is 100. An IQ of 100 is dead average, half the kids in your child’s class will score lower and half higher. If your child scores higher than 100 her performance is more like children older than herself, while a below-100 IQ means your child’s ability matches children younger than herself.

If your child has an IQ below 100, it’s not the end of the world. Remember that the best single predictor of your child’s future grades is not IQ, but their past grades in school. Creativity is also not highly correlated with IQ test scores; at the same time however creative people do not have below-average IQ’s. As well, keep in mind that IQ scores fluctuate. One study found an average difference of 28.5 points between the IQ scores of children two-and-a-half to seventeen years-of-age. One child in seven showed IQ changes of at least 40 points, and changes of more than 70 points were not unknown.