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Red Flags or Red Herrings

Predicting Who Your Child Will Become

Susan Engel

Most people think they can spot the child heading for turbulence and the one bound for success. But these intuitions are often wrong.

Behavioural scientist James Watson laid the scientific foundation for people to believe that way kids turned out was based on the way you raised them. And that boiled down to rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad.

But there are several characteristics that show up early in childhood and don't change much over his life. Measure IQ of adopted kids and in early years their IQ is most similar to that of adoptive parents. But by time teenagers it's snapped back to similar to genetic parents. Or, for identical twins raised apart, the adoptive effect drops off and they become like each other.

"Agreeableness" is very stable throughout life. Agreeable people are easy to deal with, take things in their stride and have positive outlook. But it's not a golden ticket - there are plenty of agreeable people who shuttle from one doomed love affair to the next, or who get stuck in unfulfilling jobs.

Robert Sternberg suggested that there are 3 types:
- analytic: ability to learn info and use it to solve new problems
- practical: knowing how to figure out what was required to solve problem
- creative: inventing new ways of doing something

Someone can succeed just with first two - basically doing what they're told and working hard will pass all the exams.

Expectations crucial: a bright child who doesn't enjoy school and gets offside with teachers will end up being treated as if she is not bright. So by the time she is an adult, she hasn't acquired the knowledge and skills which wd allow her to do the things intelligent people do.

Dunedin, NZ Longitudinal Study particularly remarkable in number people they were able to keep in program. Tracked 1057 babies born at Queen Mary Hospital, Dunedin 1 Apr 1972 to 31 March 1973 (NZ's financial year). They tested every 3 years, and got all but 20 back at age 21 for followup. The study originally designed to see what health outcomes of different pre- and post-natal care, but also measured IQ. Found that vast majority (930 out of 1037) IQ stayed pretty much the same. Even those whose IQ went up or down over study, reverted to base level.

More books on Children

Conversation - Children from wealthier homes get different type than those from poorer homes. Wealthier families more likely to talk about the world around them and to discuss what is worth noticing. And there is a strong correlation between this 'extra talk' and later IQ levels. And, possibly explains another puzzle - why do first-born children seem to have higher IQ? Suggest that he gets all conversational attention of parents, whereas later kids diluted. And this also suggests that a 'late lamb' (child born several years after older siblings) will benefit from parents + older siblings supplying extra 'extra talk'. (Guy who suggested all this, Robert Zajonic, has not provided enough research data to convince everyone that he is right).

IQ is not a static capacity: it is more like a pathway. Each step leads you further in one direction and away from another. The child who is treated as smart feels smarter and seeks out more stimulating things. The child who feels that others don't think he's smart begins to act that way, further lowering their expectations of him, and so on,

Some young kids have "extremely intense interests", such as 12 month old fascinated by cars, and another who was all about balls. It has taken educators a long time to recognize the common-sense idea that when a kid is interested in something he learns a lot more about it, and he learns a lot better.

John Gottman describing a couple at his Love Lab who argued a lot, swearing at each other, mocking, rolling their eyes in contempt. But when they talked about their marriage, their conversations were laced with things they had done together, funny stories about each other, happy things they'd shared. They laughed at each other's jokes, looked at each other often, and were deeply interested in each other. Their talk was full of marital stability,and the signs of conflict indicated nothing much at all.

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