Sunday, February 1, 2015

How to explain IQ testing to your gifted child

Your child received IQ testing as part of a gifted identification evaluation through the school. How do you explain the results to your child?


1.  A few reminders about IQ testing 

  • Individualized IQ testing is administered one to one by a highly trained clinical or school psychologist. Don't confuse these tests with the group screening exams offered in classroom settings. While group tests may give some indication of a child's abilities, they are less accurate, and certainly do not provide the wealth of information individualized testing provides. (For more information about IQ testing, including understanding the GAI on the WISC-IV, see the articles listed below.)

  • Testing is a valuable source of information about how your child approaches learning. Although a specific cut-off score of 130 is typically used for gifted identification in most school districts, the actual IQ score is only one piece of information that is gathered from the evaluation. Individualized IQ tests, such as the WISC-IV and Stanford-Binet, are composed of subtests, each measuring different areas of cognitive abilities. The scores on each of the subtests are combined to generate the overall IQ score. However, the subtest scores often provide the most useful information with respect to your child's strengths and abilities.                                                        

  • Testing is a sample in time. Most psychologists know that IQ scores fall within a range of scores; there is not just one targeted score. Depending on your child's mood, attention span, physical comfort level (e.g., if hunger or fatigue interfere), and rapport with the psychologist, she could presumably attain a slightly different score on a different day. 


2.  Help your child before taking the test


  • While you might question whether to have your child tested, it is important to support the decision once it is made. If you are ambivalent or anxious, these feelings may be conveyed to your child, who may not perform well as a result. If your child believes that you think the testing is unimportant, he may not take it seriously and not perform at his best. If he senses that you are anxious or are placing too much importance on the evaluation, he might become anxious as well, which also can affect performance. So work through any misgivings you have about the testing, and hold your feelings in check.

  • Take care of the basics. Make sure your child gets enough rest, eats a good breakfast, and has some basic understanding of the evaluation. Speak with your child's teacher or the psychologist ahead of time to let him or her know if your child has difficulty with certain times of day. Does she get overly tired in the afternoons? Would he become distracted and upset if he had to miss recess for the evaluation? Does she become irritable right before lunch? All of these factors could affect the evaluation.

  • Explain to your child that she is being tested to see if the teachers can understand her more. The results will help the teachers find ways to make learning more interesting. The more they know about what she does best, the easier it will be for them to sort out how to make school the best it can be for her. 

  • Let your child know that the testing is different from exams in class that quiz what he has already learned. He will have to answer some questions, write some things, and even play with puzzles. Let him know there will be questions he cannot answer since the test is designed for children of all ages. He is not expected to know everything, but you would like him to try his best.

3.  You will have a reaction to results from the testing

  • Be prepared to feel validated...or be surprised. Yes, an IQ score will be included in the results. But you will also receive feedback about your child's cognitive strengths and learning style. How does she approach problem solving? Is she obsessive? Careless? Impulsive? Hesitant? How are her planning skills? How is her judgment? How your child approaches the test can provide almost as much information as her actual performance. Testing can identify any discrepancies in terms of strengths and weaknesses, uncover possible learning disabilities, and determine whether emotional reactions interfere with learning. All valuable information.

  • It may take time to adjust to learning that your child is gifted. Receiving confirmation of your child's gifted ablities may evoke a range of feelings, from excitement to anxiety. Try to share these reactions with your significant other, family or friends, but not convey too much excitement to your child. He didn't accomplish anything. He didn't win a prize. The testing provided additional validation about abilities he already possessed. If you express too much excitement about his performance, it could be confusing to him. He might think that he is valued primarily because of his abilities. Or that he is "better" than the other children at school. Or that he has to be perfect to "maintain" his gifted status. 

4.  How to explain the results to your child


  • Try to be as straightforward and relaxed as possible. Let your child know that results show that she might benefit from some more enriching and challenging school activities. This will make school more fun and interesting. She will still be with her friends, but may be pulled out of the class a few hours a week, meet in smaller groups to do interesting projects, or get some different assignments than some of the other children. If subject or full grade acceleration is an option, discuss the benefits and drawbacks in depth with your child (more on this in a future blog post). 

  • Don't tell your child his IQ score. Nothing good can come from this. Why? Most children are not developmentally capable of understanding what an actual IQ score means. It is just a number, and your child may misinterpret it to rigidly define his abilities or limit his potential over time. My IQ is higher than my friend's - I must be a lot smarter than him. I only have an IQ of 130 - maybe they made a mistake and I don't really belong in gifted classes. Since I'm not as gifted as my sister, I guess I can't expect much more from myself. Sharing your child's IQ score with him is not much different from telling an 8-year-old what your salary is; he cannot really comprehend the value of a dollar or what it costs to raise a family.

  • If your child learns that she is "gifted," help her understand what giftedness means. Explain that it is a term used to describe certain learning needs that differ from those of her peers. Help her to appreciate that it does not make her better than someone else or more special. Your child may have difficulty understanding why some other children behave the way they do, or cannot grasp what seems like easy material in class. Explain that everyone has uneven abilities. Even giftedness comes in all shapes and sizes; she might have an easier time with math, for example, than with writing stories. Encourage humility, tact, and consideration when relating to peers. 

  • Help your child with any ambivalence or confusion about being gifted. He may worry that this new label will create problems - isolation from friends, bullying, extra busy work at school. Since gifted children possess a strong sense of morality, he might think it is unfair that others lack the abilities that come so easily to him. On the other hand, he may feel superior to his peers, although confused and guilty about this pride. Expectations about achieving perfection may develop. He may start to think that being gifted is the only thing that is important about him, or that he could "lose" his giftedness, for example, if he does poorly in a class at school. He might even wonder if being gifted is why his family loves him.

  • Help your child realize that giftedness is not an excuse. Help him appreciate that hard work and effort is essential, regardless of the fact that some tasks come easily to him. Some researchers have suggested that praising a child for being smart creates an unhealthy reliance on encouragement and a reluctance to take on challenges. Children who attribute success or failure to stable, innate traits, rather than hard work, are less likely to develop resilience or willingly tackle obstacles in their paths. 

Although not without its flaws, IQ testing can provide valuable insight into your child's strengths, abilities, and areas that warrant further growth. It is up to you to determine how the information is conveyed to your child.


What was your experience when you told your child he or she was gifted? How did you explain the test results? Let us know what worked for you and your child!


Informative articles about IQ testing