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Why Gifted Isn't Everything

Your child's score on an IQ test isn't the only factor in his success in school and life.

By Adele M. Brodkin | null null , null

Must parents today be more vigilant about their kids' preparation for the future than previous generations had been? Certainly contemporary parents seem to be more worried about their children's achievement, perhaps in part because the skills needed for the future are not as well-defined as they once were. There is a sense of urgency: start early; work hard at learning how to learn; strive for high scores on tests that may determine who will succeed someday. We seem to have concluded that, unless proven otherwise, those deemed "gifted" at learning will have the edge. It's a logical conviction, but one that needs some tempering, according to both anecdotal and statistical evidence.

Most of the presidents of the United States who served in the last and current century had been mediocre students and/or had less than sterling test scores. Certainly being labeled gifted, talented, or having done well in school has some positive predictive value. But all is not lost without it, fortunately for Albert Einstein and Robert Sternberg, both of whom failed to meet their teachers' performance expectations in the early grades. (Einstein was no "Baby Einstein"!)

Sternberg and others who have studied intelligence, creativity, and wisdom have pointed to other crucial qualities that are more likely to contribute to success. Demonstrating good executive function is a better predictor of success than IQ. Having good social skills, empathy, and self-understanding and a joyful involvement in any one of many possible passions from science to soccer are positive predictors. But more importantly, scoring high on an IQ test, while also lacking good executive function, good social skills, self-understanding, and joy in mastery does not bode well for that high scorer's future.  

Of course, nothing beats having it all: high IQ test scores and analytic skills; positive character traits, such as being well organized and a hard worker; understanding one's self and others; being good at planning; and being determined to follow through and finish what one has started. Together, those add up to excellent odds for success.

What's more, there is a positive association among those scores and traits. Contrary to popular opinion, most high IQ scorers are not friendless nerds with two left feet on the playing field. They are more likely to be endowed with multiple skills and talents as well as pleasing personalities. Frequently these qualities and high scores do go together — but not always.

No matter what your child's gifts, it's clear to me what your priorities should be. Raise the odds for success by focusing on and seeking special help or tutoring in social-emotional skills, organizing and logical planning, not in raising test scores. Help Johnny and Jill to discover their passions, tune into the world around them, focus, and follow through, and you will be investing wisely in their future.

About the Author

Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D., is a psychologist, consultant, and author of many books, including Fresh Approaches to Working With Problematic Behavior and Raising Happy and Successful Kids: A Guide for Parents. In addition, she has written and produced award-winning educational videos.

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