How To Raise Your Kid's I.Q.

Filed under: Books for Kids

Intelligence and How to Get ItIn the early 1900's, when French psychologist Alfred Binet created the first test to measure intelligence in children, he warned that the resulting I.Q. scores shouldn't be considered the definitive marker of a child's potential. He insisted that intelligence was not a fixed quantity and the idea that it could not be increased was baseless. Over time, however, that warning was ignored and conventional wisdom now holds that intelligence is genetic and whatever potential a child is born with is all he or she will ever have.

As proof of this genetic predetermination, experts point to studies of identical twins raised apart who achieved similar scores on I.Q. tests. Because they grew up in different environments, the only explanation for the comparable scores must be genetics, right? In addition, studies have shown that poor people are less intelligent than rich people and this, too, is considered a function of genetics.

But is any of this really true? Is a person's potential mental ability truly set in stone? According to a new book by Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, the answer is an emphatic "no." The book, "Intelligence and How to Get It," looks at not only how to increase your child's intelligence, but offers ideas on how to address poverty and inequality in America.

Nisbett says that while genetics may play a part in a child's general potential, that potential is malleable and can be altered given the right circumstances. As proof, he points to a program called the Milwaukee Project in which African-American children who were believed to be at risk for mental retardation were given intensive day care and education from the age of six months to the time they entered first grade. By the age of five, the children in the program scored an average of 110 on I.Q. tests as compared with an average score of 83 for those who did not participate in the program. And those numbers held true throughout adolescence.

The implications of these results are clear: children growing up in poverty need not be resigned to a life of lower expectations. They can be raised up. Nisbett advocates for a sort of intellectual-stimulus program that would allow more children to take advantage of these intensive childhood programs.

As for parents who want to help their own children increase their potential, Nisbett has advice for them, too. He says young children benefit when effort is valued over achievement, delayed gratification is the norm and praise is used to stimulate curiosity. Even high school students can benefit just by being told they have the power to shape their own intelligence.

"Some of the things that work are very cheap," says Professor Nisbett. "Convincing junior-high kids that intelligence is under their control - you could argue that that should be in the junior-high curriculum right now."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.