Updated Sept. 13, 2020
by Maria Aurelia “Chacha” Tumbokon
Raising a smart child is all about developing his potential, making him all that he (or she) can be.
Your child’s brain does not grow automatically with age. It comes from experience and the exercise the brain receives. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell stimulate the brain’s cell connections (called synapses) and create trillions more. The more complex these interconnections, the smarter your child will be. When you provide your child with early stimulation and a wide range of experiences, you can accelerate his brain development.
Also, your child’s brain growth is dynamic. It does not stand still. It is either improving or degenerating. When a child’s abilities and talents are being used, brain growth progresses. When they are not being used, the neural connections are lost, and brain growth regresses. In this regard, an “unstimulated” gifted child has more to lose.
What your child experiences in early years shape the kind of person he will become – how he gets along, how he controls emotions, how well he does in school, what kind of relationships he forms, and even what kind of parent he will become.
That’s why how you help your child develop intellectually affects him through adulthood.
Below are some of the suggestions backed by science and observations by child experts to help your child’s intellectual growth and help him grow smart:
- Give your child an early start – According to the study by Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, giving your child a head start in learning should “start in the crib”. He recommends the following activities to support early childhood development: maximizing loving responsiveness and minimizing stress, talking, singing and gesturing a lot, using number games and rhythm, enabling and encouraging three-dimensional competencies, and cultivating a love of learning.
- Read books to your child – Start reading to him even if he does not understand the words. This gives him a head start in developing language skills. Kids who are read to when young are more likely to develop a lifelong interest in reading, do well in school, and succeed in adult life. Reading books is one of the most important activity that make kids smart.
- Talk to your child – This develops your child’s strong language skills. Also, listen to your child when he’s talking. This reinforces his effort to communicate and develops his facility for language. A study shows that kids who experienced more conversation at home had greater brain activity and verbal attitude. Ask questions and wait for responses instead of engaging in a one-way narration. With babies, you can exchange coos and silly faces.
- Interact with your kid, play with him (her), and make him feel loved – Scientists observed that babies who were not cuddled, played with and loved have stunted brain growth. They also observed that babies who were not held and did not receive attention failed to grow, became depressed, and eventually died. On the other hand, many studies have shown that loving, hugging, interacting and playing with your child has a strong effect on developing his intelligence. The loving connection formed between you and your kid and your one-on-one interaction with him provide the foundation for his higher thinking skills. Parents who are sensitive caregivers “respond to their child’s signals promptly and appropriately” and “provide a secure base” for children to explore the world.
- Make your child a reader – The love for reading brings so many benefits for your child. It is one of the most important quality you can develop on your child for him to grow up smart. Reading develops your child’s appetite for knowledge. The more your child learns from reading, the more he wants to know. By being a reader early in life, your child is well-prepared to grasp the complexities of mathematics, science, history, engineering, mechanics, political science,and other knowledge necessary for a productive life. See more benefits of reading.
- Let your kid play – When your kid plays, he is not just having fun, he is developing his brain. He is creating the foundation for his intellectual, social, physical and emotional skills. When he plays with other kids, he learns to combine ideas, impressions and feelings with other kids’ experiences and opinions.
- The best toys for your young child should not necessarily be expensive – Choose toys that can be played more than one way – those that allow your child to have fun in various ways with the help of her imagination. Choose toys that exercise your child’s imagination, or where he can learn a variety of skills from. See a list of educational toys to make your child smart.
- Encourage your child to exercise – Physical exercise does not only make your kid strong, but it also makes him or her smart! Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain and builds new brain cells. Exercise is good for adults’ mental sharpness, but it has a more long-lasting effect on your kid’s still developing brain. See more benefits of exercise on children’s brain.
- Foster your child’s creativity – Creativity is a valued mental characteristic in the arts, science, and any endevor that involves problem solving as a whole. Kids are naturally creative. Although some kids are genetically more talented than others, it can be a learned behavior that can be nurtured from childhood. Some of the ways to nurture creativity include exposing your child to literature, music and the arts, and making tools like paper and paint available for him to work on. See more ways to raise a creative child.
- Make music a part of your child’s life – Studies have shown that listening to music can boost memory, attention, motivation and learning. It can also lower stress that is destructive to your kid’s brain. A study has also shown that children’s brains develop faster with music training.
- Make your child take music lessons – Taking music lessons or playing a musical instrument could make your child’s mind sharper and may benefit your child’s brain later in life, even if he does not continue learning music in his adulthood.
- Let your child see you do smart things – Kids learn by modeling adult’s behavior. If he sees you engaged in reading books, writing, making music, or doing creative things, he will imitate you, and in the process make himself smart.
- Limit your kid’s TV viewing – Your child should not be watching TV before age 2. Monitor your child’s TV watching and be selective about the shows that he watches. See tips on how to make TV viewing good for your kid. Letting your child watch too much TV takes him away from doing activities that are more important to his developing brain, like playing, socializing and reading books.
- If you let your young child use a smartphone or tablet, play and interact with him using educational apps. Playing too much interactive media by himself may affect his development of insights, empathy, way of knowing himself, and connecting with relationships. Excessive use of these devices can lead to health and emotional problems. Learn how to manage your child’s tablet and smartphone screen time.
- Give your kid smart computer games – The best kid-friendly computer games teach your child about letters, math, music, phonics and many others. It also develops his hand-eye coordination and prepares him for tomorrow’s technology. More importantly, he learns these while he plays. Learning and having fun at the same time is the best way for your child to learn. See also the positive and negative effects of video games
- Allow your child to get bored – According to Julia Robinson, Education and Training Director of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, it is okay for you child to get bored. Learning to be bored is part of preparing for adulthood. Your child should learn to enjoy “quiet reflection” instead of forcing him to fill his days with activities.
- Allow your child to take risks and fail – Kids who don’t take risk and experience failure or pain like falling off a bike or losing in competitions can develop low self-esteem and phobias, and can have stifled creativity and self-learning. Also, do not rescue your child too quickly. Let him solve problems on his own so he learns from his experience.
- Allow your child to think and solve problems by himself – Avoid always solving problems for your child. Instead offer her hints on how to solve the problem herself. For example, ask her leading question like “have you done something similar before, what did you do?”
- Encourage your child to have a “can do” attitude – Do this even if the task your child is attempting to do is hard. Reward your child with goodies and praise if he is able to do a hard task.
- Do not let your child hear you talking about yourself in a negative way – For example, do not let your child hear you say “I’m not good at math myself” or “Don’t be like me who doesn’t like reading.”
- Feed your kid right – Giving the right food to your child is important to making her smart. Giving your baby the proper nutrition should begin while you are pregnant. For an older kid, a protein-rich diet (egg, fish, meat) improves his attention, alertness, and thinking. Carbohydrates gives his brain the fuel that is used in thinking. The best ones are those that come from whole grain and fruits. Processed carbohydrates and sugar have bad effects on attention span, focusing ability, and activity level. Vitamins and minerals are also important. Feeding your child lots of fatty, sugary and processed foods may lower his IQ, while a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients appears to boost it, according to a British and Canadian study
- Make sure your child get enough sleep – A number of studies show a correlation in the amount of sleep and grades. If continued long enough, sleep issues can cause permanent problems. According to the book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
, missing an hour of sleep turns a sixth grader’s brain into a fourth grader. There is also a correlation between grades and average amount of sleep.
- Help your kid develop grit. – Grit is the disposition to pursue long term goals with hard work, perseverance and stamina. Having grit is said to make the difference between a high achiever and an unsuccessful person, and is more important for success than innate talent or intelligence. One way to teach your child about grit is to share with him the disappointments and frustrations that you have experienced.
- Praise your child for hard work, instead of “being smart” – Praising your child for effort help your child see himself as being in control of his success. Kids who are praised for their intelligence tend to do easy tasks and avoid challenges that might endanger his self-image of being smart. Your kid needs to challenge himself, and thus experience failure every now and then. Not experiencing failure means he has not set his goal high enough, and he will not be able to achieve anything worthwhile. Also, praise intermittently so your child’s persistence is not based only on rewards like praise.
- But don’t praise your child too much, or it might make him a narcissist later in life. Children tend to see themselves as important people in their lives see them. Instead, give your child honest and appropriate feedback mixed with encouragement and support to build his self-esteem and security.
- Give your child a growth mindset – According to psychiatrist Joe Brewster, kids should be encouraged to see learning as the process of becoming better at something, instead of having a fixed mind-set of his intelligence. When your child fails, he should see it as an opportunity for growth, instead of seeing himself as a failure.
- Avoid coddling your child – Do this if you want him to be a leader, according to leadership expert Tim Elmore. Also, give him projects that require patience, so he learns to master certain disciplines. Find more tips in this Forbes article.
- Set a high expectation for your child – A study suggests that expectations that parents hold for their kids have a huge effect on the kids attaining what their parents expect them to achieve.
- Sometimes just believing in your kid that he is smart makes a difference.
- Use bribery as part of your parental toolkit – Experts say that it is okay to bribe your child to motivate her, like “paying” for getting good grades or doing chores. You can ask your child what she prefers as an incentive. Sometimes, money or material items are not that important to her, compared to video game time, for example. Bribery should not be used, however, to control your kid or to make her stop an unacceptable behavior.
- Consider giving your child more time engaging in open-ended, free-flowing activities instead of forcing him into a schedule. According to a study by doctoral and undergraduate researchers at University of Colorado, Boulder, children who have less-structured time display higher levels of executive functioning, and vice versa. According to Yuko Munakata, the study’s lead researcher, “Executive function helps [children] in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, from flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, to stopping themselves from yelling when angry, to delaying gratification. Executive function during childhood predict important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth, and criminality, years and even decades.”
- Don’t micromanage your child – or constantly correct her. Let her discover things for herself to nurture her creative and innovative thinking.
- Don’t stress out your child – Kids who are stressed in their first 3 years tend to be sensitive to stress. Their brains are hard-wired to overreact to stressful situations and they end up hyperactive, anxious, impulsive and oftentimes neurotic. Stress hormones scar the brain, and actually shrinks the part that is important for memory and emotion. Also don’t show your child that you are too stressed because it can be contagious. Click here for effects of stress on your kid’s brain.
- Do not yell at your kids. “Spanking with words” have a significant effect on a child’s development. A study from the Harvard Medical School suggests that “parental verbal abuse can injure brain pathways, possibly causing depression, anxiety, and problems with language processing”.
- Do not maltreat your child. Maltreatment of children can have long-term effects on their brain. Teens who were abused in childhood or were neglected can have less brain cells in some areas of the brain than those who were not maltreated, according to the study published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. In boys, the brain size reduction tends to be concentrated on the areas of the brain associated with impulse control or substance abuse. In girls, the brain reduction is found on the areas of the brain that is linked to depression.
- Make your child do chores. Give him age-appropriate chores. Kids as young as 2 can clean up by putting toys in the toy box, or set the table. Older kids can do the dishes or laundry, taking out the garbage, or vacuum-clean the house. Kids who are raised on chores learn to contribute to the family, be responsible, grow up to be good team players and learn that work is not something to be ashamed of.
- Get your kid involved in the kitchen. It will not only teach him how to cook, it will also enhance his math and motor skills.
- Be an involved Dad Studies have shown that children who are close to their fathers are less likely to break the law, drop out of school, avoid risky sex, pursue healthy relationships, have fewer psychological problems. According to a 2011 research study from Concordia University, published in the Canadian Journal of Behavior Science, children of fathers who were hands-on and used positive parenting skills tended to have fewer behavioral problems and do better on intelligence tests. Some kids with no contact with fathers, however, also do well intellectually and emotionally because mothers and caregivers make up for the fathers’ absence. Also, dads who help out at home raise daughters who select from a broader range of career options than daughters of families in which chores are not equitably shared, a study suggests.
- Encourage your child to talk about her and other people’s feelings. This will not only get her to be in touch with how she feels, which helps his emotional development, but more important, it teaches her empathy. Understanding how other people feels will make her become well-adjusted socially, and will also make her skillful in building great relationships with other human beings, a trait that is as important as intelligence. In fact smart people with no empathy can be scary.
- Teach your child social skills and emotional learning. Kids who readily cooperate with their peers, are helpful to others, understand their feelings , and resolve problems with others are far more likely to have a full time job, and less likely to engage in illegal activities. Talk to your kid about how great it is to share, and how to control their thoughts and emotions. Another way to teach you child about emotions is to read to them and comment about the emotions and motivations of the characters in the story.
- Teach your child the importance of deferred gratification – being able to resist the temptation of immediate reward in order to get a bigger or better reward in the future. Studies show that being able to delay gratification is one of the most effective personal traits of successful people. Learning to delay gratification will improve your child’s self control and help him achieve his goals. One way to do it is to teach your child to save instead of spend small amounts of money on little things (for example, candies) so that he can buy a bigger and more desirable thing in the future (for example, a bike). Tell him that spending his time studying hard today will enable him to enjoy a successful career in the future.
- Tell stories to your child. Tell your child about the interesting things you experienced at work or outside the house. Tell him about your amazing or amusing childhood experiences. Discuss your story with him. This enables your child to learn life lessons from you. Discussing with your child also develops communication skills, which is needed in school and in the workplace. Also, talk to your child about how you solve problems in your everyday life and at work. This will make them learn about how to deal with problems, and shape how they see their roadblocks in the future. Share with him the mistakes you made when you were his age, and why and how he should avoid them.
- Teach your child math as early as possible. Math is a very important skill to master. Unfortunately, some parents tend to communicate to their kids that math is hard. Avoid unconsciously impressing on your child that he should fear math. According to Northwestern University researcher Greg Duncan “Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement” You can inject math into everything, and actually make math fun.
- In addition, to reading, math, and science, consider introducing your child early to coding Learning to code has many benefits for his intellect. Through coding, he learns computational thinking, logic, and systematic problem solving, among others. It will also make him appreciate what’s behind the technology that surrounds him, and prepare him for a future where the use of computer requires a bit of coding knowledge. Here’s how to introduce coding for kids
- Raise your kid to be bilingual. Raising your child to be bilingual may enhance his cognitive ability. a key study in the 1962 by Elizabeth Peal and Wallace Lambert at McGill University in Montreal found that bilinguals outperformed monolinguals in 15 verbal and nonverbal tests. More recent studies show that bilingual experience helps kids acquire other new languages throughout their lives. Bilinguals have also found to have flexible and focused brains as the executive control of their brains become adept at juggling languages that are constantly competing for attention.
- Be actively involved in your child’s education. Parental involvement is an important factor for your kid’s success in school. Also, more important than attending parent-teacher conferences is showing up at ball games and music recitals.
- Enroll your child in a quality preschool. According to a January 2013 report published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, three effective ways of boosting your child’s intelligence are supplementing your child’s diet with fish oil, enrolling her in a quality preschool, and engaging her in interactive reading.
- If you smoke, do not smoke around your kid. Kids who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to struggle with mental problems.
- Make lifelong leaning your entire family’s commitment, not just a school requirement.
- Instill in your child that self-discipline and willpower are more important than IQ at predicting who will be successful in life. Also, intelligence is not everything. Intelligence without morals and empathy could lead to a disastrous future.
- Help your child imagine a happy and fulfilling future, and tell him what he needs to do to get there.
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