Friday, October 09, 2015

What should you tell your kid?

As promised in my 10th anniversary post, I'd like to re-raise some of the issues from the most-discussed posts of the past. A particularly thorny issue for many parents is what to tell their kids about giftedness.

Parents always have to figure out what's worth sharing with their kids and what's not. I generally don't tell my 4-year-old daughter about playdates until shortly beforehand for a few reasons. One is that she has little concept of time, and so every day I would have to keep explaining that no, it's not today, and deal with that disappointment. Also, sometimes kids get sick or have to cancel, and she'd be devastated by that. So while, as an adult, I know that anticipation accounts for a major chunk of the happiness gleaned from an event, I generally make a strategic choice that she will have less anticipation but also less disappointment by not knowing far ahead of time.

Playdates are one thing. But what do you tell your kids about their own giftedness? Kids pick up on many things. Children may hear other adults say "you're so smart" or realize that adults treat them as curiosities when they do something advanced for their age (like write words in sidewalk chalk as a 3-year-old). If there are lots of meetings with teachers about appropriate challenges, they will pick up on that.

If you have them tested, that will introduce a whole new set of questions. There is nothing normal about going to sit in a psychologist's office to take the WISC. You have to figure out how to explain that one, and then how to explain the outcome. And many children will want to know the outcome. If the child figures out it's a test with numerical outcomes, he might want to know that. So, would you ever tell a child his IQ score?

I'm very curious how Gifted Exchange readers have addressed these issues with their children.

10 comments:

Angie said...

My parents had me and my two siblings tested when we were 10, 7 & 5. They did not tell us our IQs or tell us much of the other results. I believe they explained the tests as trying to learn more about us. It was surprising to learn many years later that testing showed that I had more indications of learning disabilities in the testing than my sister, who showed more signs of dyslexia.

Anonymous said...

My son was having attention issues when he started kindergarten and his teacher recommended we have him tested. He was 6 at the time, and we told him that he was going to play fun games with a doctor who wanted to figure out how well he could do at the games. We never told him the real reason he was tested, though by now (Age 9 and 3 grade accelerations later) he's figured it out. We've never discussed his IQ score with him. He has no idea. He understands his situation in school because he's been told that everyone in school gets what they need, and that's what he needs. When kids at school say, "Hey, are you a genius or something like that?" we've been told that he responds with, "Something like that."

Gail Post, Ph.D. said...

I feel strongly that telling your child his/her IQ score is not helpful. Children, and even adults without sufficient understanding of IQ tests, have little understanding of how to put that information in context. But explaining strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement can be valuable. I wrote a blog post about this issue a while ago: http://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com/2015/02/how-to-explain-iq-testing-to-your.html

Laura Vanderkam said...

Per what "anonymous" said above - I think it's a great idea to give children strategies to address questions and comments that they get a lot from other adults. At least today's gifted kids don't have to deal with the "Doogie Howser, MD" comments (I realize I'm dating myself here).

Anonymous said...

I was not supposed to be told what my IQ was, but a teacher left her grade book sitting out with the assumption that no 6th grade child could read upside down. I found out my IQ and that I had scored 10 points higher than any other kid in my class. However, I had no idea what "IQ" was. When I asked my mom she said it was a number that didn't matter because it could be affected by too many other factors. That was where it ended. I then experienced serious impostor syndrome throughout my life where I was absolutely sure that I should not have qualified for the gifted program and that "they" would eventually figure it out an put me in special ed where I belonged. It wasn't until I was an adult and researched that IQ score I had seen that I began to put all of the pieces in place. Yes I did belong in the gifted program. Actually I tested into the next level of the gifted program but was not given a seat because I was an out of district transfer. So I was still out of synch even in the gifted program I was in and that was why I never thought I belonged there. So many things came into perspective and began to make so much sense as I learned about what my score actually meant. When we had our son tested the psychologist we went to gave us his score while he was in the room. I was perfectly okay with that. He needs to know. Now it is our responsibility as adults to help him understand what his score means. We have discussed how it means that sometimes he won't understand other kids his age and they won't understand him, but that is okay because they can talk about the things they do have in common and then we have given suggestions about what those things are. (Minecraft seems to be universal at the moment.) We talk about how the score helps us accept that he is well placed in math and understand that we should not try to hold him back. We share with him that the score helps us to understand some of his characteristics and gives us an understanding of how we might help him to deal with some of the less socially acceptable ones. (Yes he is a genius, but no that does not mean he can behave in socially unacceptable ways.) We discuss that there are other children with similar characteristics and similar scores, we just don't know any of them yet. We talk about how his score indicates that high expectations are appropriate for him and then help and assist him to reach those expectations. And I expect that someday he will also take his score to the internet in an effort to understand himself better and he will find that his score will answer many of his questions. I believe it is very important for a child to know the score and for the adults around them to help with understanding what it means. It is a part of who we are, a piece of the puzzle of our lives, to not tell us and help us understand is to tie one of our hands behind our back. Please don't do that. We have to know why we feel different in order to accept those differences and learn to succeed in the world around us, a world that will never really understand us but to which we can give so much if we are comfortable with ourselves and our differences. Would you keep from a dyslexic child his dyslexia? A depressed child her depression? A child with ADD the ADD? Would you keep the reason for their difference from the child in any other case? Do not do so with giftedness either.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I'm with anonymous@1:07pm—we let our son know all his test results, and helped him interpret them.

beckilynb said...

I say, "I'm glad that you're so smart, but what really matters is your character: What kind of person you are. Being a good person is much more important than being smart."

Gail Post, Ph.D. said...

I have to respectfully disagree with Anonymous @1:07 in terms of the statement that not telling your child his IQ score is like tying one hand behind his back. There is a big difference between letting your child know he is gifted and sharing the actual IQ score.

I am a psychologist and am very aware of the complexity of IQ testing. The subtest scores and their interplay can convey a lot about an individual's strengths and weaknesses. When a psychologist gives feedback to the family, all of the information gathered from the entire test is offered.

The full scale IQ score presents a snapshot in time, and because our society puts a lot of weight on it, the actual number can be a burden and can be misunderstood. Unless you are trained in psychometric testing, it would be very hard to clearly explain all of the nuances of the testing, the margin of error, and the relative importance of various subtests to a child. A child with a 135 IQ, for example, might have very similar subtest scores, OR might have extreme variations in abilities. The score itself does not do justice to understanding the individual.

It is important to explain giftedness to children, and most gifted children certainly know their score is over 130, since that is the cutoff in most states. But it cannot serve any benefit, IMO, to tell them their actual score.

nicoleandmaggie said...

Re: all the folks who weren't told they were numerically or otherwise special and then suffered impostor syndrome. Gifted kids who grew up knowing they were gifted suffer impostor syndrome too. Especially girls (because patriarchy). It's normal and not caused by knowing or not knowing some arbitrary number. Unless someone who has done a randomized controlled trial on the topic can contradict me here.

Anonymous said...

My strategy with my 6-year-old is to talk about the brain as a muscle. So we talk about the fact that different people's brain muscles need different training programs, and how just because someone else's brain muscle doesn't work the same as hers doesn't make that person dumb or inferior. We also talk about "working to failure" as a way of finding stuff that your muscles *can't* do to know what you work on. (My husband has a set of weights in his office, so the concept of weightlifting isn't abstract to her.) Right now I'm trying to get her to do some extra work for the Davidson Young Scholars application, and I'm trying to sell her on the whole thing by talking about how it would help us get her better brain training. (She'd still rather play puppies with her sister, which is when my worries about pushing her come into play.)