I’ve been a Dad to over a dozen cats in my adult life. The cat in the photo is Cookie, one of the three cats in my family right now. All three display signs of intelligence. I see this in the way they make decisions. For example, at a certain time each afternoon, Cookie will come into my office and ask for her dinner. If I’m busy and ignore her, she will come up to me, rise up on her back legs, and tap me on the leg with her front paw. If she asks too early in the afternoon, I look her in the eye and firmly tell her, “No, Cookie, it’s not time yet.” Now another cat might continue to ask, but Cookie will jump up on a nearby table and sit there quietly, looking at me until I decide to feed her, when it’s time. In other words, she exercises patience. It’s what she decides to do. I love her for that.

Do you have pets? A dog or a cat? If so, you know they express a range of emotions, from distress to anger to affection. And they show signs of intelligence, which, like humans, is based on having a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Other mammals, such as monkeys, whales, and elephants also have a PFC. But you also know that their intelligence isn’t as developed as human intellengence, not by a long shot. The difference is human language. Our brains interpret reality both emotionally and intellectually. Dogs and cats process their perceptions and emotions, but they don’t have word-based language to enrich their ability to think. Every word in our language represents a concept that identifies an aspect of reality. Words like up, down, yesterday, today, tomorrow, life, death, chair, distance, hope, book, fast, and tens of thousands of other words enable us to think about our reality, to reason. My cat Cookie thinks, but she is limited by her lack of vocabulary. Her intelligence is based strictly on processing her perceptions and her emotions.

A child who has yet to learn to walk typically hasn’t learned to talk either. So at that stage, there isn’t much difference between a cat’s ability to think and that of a child that young. But a toddler’s intelligence is about to grow, and it will grow by leaps and bounds when they learn to talk and expand their vocabulary. In other words, they’ll get smarter as they get older. However, you know from experience that some teenagers are smarter than others. Some kids have acquired larger vocabularies and have greater capacity to understand what’s going on in the world. You also know that this is true of adults, too. You’ve probably known some amazingly brilliant adults. And some not so much. And so it goes…

Do you remember an instance when, as an adult, someone used a word you didn’t understand and you had to learn what it meant? That revelation became a permanent part of your intelligence. But before that, the concept had no meaning for you and you couldn’t use it to make sense of your world. As I write this, I am 79 years old and have an impressive vocabulary. But I’m still discovering new words and learning their meaning. I’m sure I learn at least one new word every day.

Children are a work in progress. A nine-year old child who learns 500 new words in a year will become more intellectually empowered than a child of the same age who learns only 100. A child could easily learn 2,500 new words in a year, if they’re an avid reader and are willing to ask a parent or a teacher.

In this way, you can actually help your child build a more robust intelligence. Imagine how empowering this would be to their future success as an adult.

And there are other ways to accomplish this. More about this…