Changing the Definition of a "Smart" Child

Is my child smart? This is probably a question that most of us as parents ask ourselves at some point.  But let’s admit it, this is a loaded question! We hope and pray that our child is “smart” because we often feel it bodes well for their future success and it can make us feel successful as their parents.  However, as a clinical psychologist who tests both children and adults, I can say that issues of intelligence/IQ are far more complex than just an IQ number.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is value in the tools we have developed to try to understand and capture this concept and they can help us make important decisions about access to resources.  However, please also know that there is no agreed upon definition of “intelligence.”  Most dictionaries will define it as one’s ability to think, reason and understand or as the ability to understand and think about things as well as to gain and use knowledge.  While “IQ” can be a good predictor of job performance, factors such as compliance, motivation, and level of education can influence the measurement of it.(1)

In the 1980’s, academia started to conceptualize different “kinds” of intelligence.  For example, most of you may have heard about “emotional IQ”. In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University, proposed eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential.(2)  These included:

  1. Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  3. Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  4. Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  5. Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  6. Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  8. Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

Other ways you may see domains of intelligence described are “verbal comprehension,” “reasoning,” “perceptual speed,” “numerical ability,” “word fluency,” “associative memory,” and “spatial visualization.”

One of the frameworks that I have enjoyed reading about, however, are the “characteristics” of people considered “smart.” (3) What I find fascinating is that these same common attributes, described in secular circles, are qualities that we find in the Bible as ones that God encourages us to embrace.  However, instead of the words “smart” and “intelligent,” the Bible uses the words WISE and WISDOM. Here are a few of these attributes to consider and pray over our children (verses in NIV) (4):

  • Humble – Wise people don’t constantly brag, boast, or display a prideful attitude.
    • Psalm 25:9 – “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way”
  • Good deeds – Wise people live an upright and moral life.
    • Matthew 5:16 – “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”
  • Gentle – Wise people treat others with care and respect.
    • Philippians 4:5 – “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
  • Considerate – Wise people put the needs of others ahead of themselves whenever possible.
    • Titus 3:2 – “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone”
  • Peace-loving – Wise people don’t foster division. Instead they work to end strife and turmoil.
    • Proverbs 14:30 – “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”
  • Merciful – Wise people demonstrate compassion, forgiveness, and kindness to others.
    • James 2:13 – “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
  • Sincere – Wise people are genuine, real, and honest; not deceitful, hypocritical, or false.
    • Romans 12:9 – “Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
  • Impartial – Wise people are fair and just. They do not show partiality to others for their own benefit.
    • James 3:17 – “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

So, as pleasing God is our greatest priority, let’s broaden how we view “smart”!…Let’s cherish His wisdom as priceless…and as God endows every one of his children (young and old) with gifts and talents, we can be confident that our child truly is “smart.”  Dear Lord, as we strive to be who You have created us to be, show us those gifts and talents you have created in each one of us… and help us strive to be wise men, women and children of God. Amen.