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Intelligence - Can it be improved?
Interview with Dr. Sushma Mehrotra, Child Psychologist

Nature vs. Nurture

Is intelligence heriditary or can it be nurtured?  The nature versus nurture debate is one that has raged long and hard. Innumerable studies have been conducted and what has been resolved is that intelligence is something that is hereditary, but that environment can play a role to enrich it. But to what extent can intelligence be nurtured or "acquired" - is it 20% or 50%? Nobody is sure. 

Today, parents are more involved in their children's lives as a result of the pressure on children to perform at a younger and younger age. Every parent would like to see his or her child excel. Dr. Sushma Mehrotra, psychologist, believes that if parents give the right kind of stimulation even an average child can excel. On the other hand, if there is a lack of stimulation, even a bright child will not reach its full potential.

Stimulate your Child: Select the right toys

What is the right kind of stimulation? Dr. Mehrotra says, "Parents should spend a lot of time with their children. They should not just give them toys, they should also play with them. There are age-appropriate toys available in the market. For instance, Lego is an excellent toy for developing attention and concentration. However, if you leave a child alone with a Lego set, he will probably just throw the pieces around, as he will not understand what he is supposed to do with them. Parents should demonstrate how to use Lego to their children and also show their keenness towards the toy. If parents are going to sit around and watch movies and expect their children to play on their own, there is no point. Children need parental involvement and guidance."

Another way in which parents can help is by helping their children to draw properly. Even that will help develop their attention and concentration and improve their perception skills. Parents should select toys that require the child to sit still for a longer period of time. They should select toys that require greater sensory involvement, toys that require the use of touch, sight and hearing. The greater the sensory involvement, the greater the learning.

Video games, for instance, instead of developing attention and concentration, only result in the fluctuation of attention and concentration. These games just have fast-moving images on a screen that requires no concentration or thinking. The child merely has to make mechanical actions. It's just for fun, there is no learning involved. First of all, the child has to focus its attention on the object. Whereas in toys like Ludo, Carrom, and Lego, a child has to think and use its imagination. 

Parents have no substitutes

Children should not just be given toys. Parents need to find the time to play with their children. Parents shouldn't feel that they are too old to play with their children. Sometimes parents make older siblings sit with the younger children. But this is not a solution. The children are quite likely to fight. Older children are not necessarily equipped with the patience required to deal with a small child. They are also not ready to handle any kind of problem that might arise from the interaction between the children. 

Nobody can substitute for parents - not tuition teachers, not playgroups, or different classes. Parents are busy taking their children from one class to another rather than doing anything themselves. It would be good enough if the parents even sat down and ate their meals together with their children, which is quite uncommon these days. Parents feel that wealth and money can compensate for their absence.

Don't Overdo

Children cannot learn everything. They should take up activities according to their interest and aptitude. However, certain things cannot be done at home. For instance, sports like squash and swimming. There is no harm in the child taking up one or two sports. But by sending children to a whole host of different classes, parents are just making them more vulnerable. This keeping up with the Joneses' attitude only makes children more prone to stress. They get tired and trying to cope with their busy schedules can kill their natural interest for these activities. This also leads to aggression and frustration among children as targets are set that cannot always be met. 

There are some children who do very well at an early age and then suddenly their performance drops when they reach the fifth or sixth standard. This is because parents overdo things in the beginning. It doesn't make much of a difference in the early years of school because while the pressure to perform is great, the academic expectation is not so high that the child cannot cope. But after the fifth or sixth standard, if the child is not particularly intelligent, then his or her performance drops. But the parents continue to maintain the same standards and expect their child to stand first in class. 

The fact remains that intelligence cannot be changed. Yes, it can be enriched to a certain extent, but beyond a point you cannot do anything.

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