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What Makes Kids Intelligent?

Raising Smart Kids

Brain Food

Eating smarter for better brain health begins in the womb and continues with breastfeeding, especially if Mom follows daily recommendations for vitamins and minerals.

"The real trick is teaching young children to like good foods when they move from breast milk to whole foods," Schoenthaler tells WebMD. "Teaching children to try everything and then avoid foods they do not like for a year or so as taste develops works fine."

Children need five or six daily servings of fruits and vegetables; five servings of whole grains; two or three servings of meat, fish, or poultry; and two or three servings of milk. Smaller-than-adult-size portions will keep children from gaining too much weight. As young children prefer salty and sweet tastes, mothers can "spice up" vegetables sparingly. Children should take a vitamin and mineral supplement at the prescribed dose.

"What the Food and Nutrition Board and the World Health Organization recommend for good health is great for IQ and behavior too," Schoenthaler says.

In his research, children taking the recommended daily allowance of vitamin and mineral supplements for three months learned 14 different academic subjects at twice the rate of children given a placebo. In more than 1 million children given a good breakfast and lunch at school, academic performance improved by 16%, and 76,000 suddenly were no longer "learning disabled."

Build Mental Muscle

"To train young minds, read something together every night. Stimulate your child's interests and curiosity and encourage the child to play an instrument," Ingegerd Carlsson, PhD, tells WebMD. She is a psychologist at Lund University in Sweden, and studies changes in brain function with creativity.

However, the "Mozart effect," in which listening to classical music supposedly improves certain IQ scores, is probably overrated, says Kenneth M. Steele, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

"Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who grow up in homes where talking, listening, and reading are common tend to have higher IQs and greater success in school," Frances P. Glascoe, PhD, an adjunct professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in East Berlin, Pa., tells WebMD.

Thomas Darvill, PhD, chairman of psychology at Oswego State University in New York, recommends a variety of safe toys that are colorful, noisy, and interesting in shape or texture. Spending more time with your child in their first year can yield big dividends later, both in terms of parent-child bonding and enhanced mental growth.

"Kids left alone to sit and watch TV or play video games on their own won't do as well," Shawn K. Acheson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., tells WebMD. "Encourage active learning and the exchange of ideas."

As they grow, children need time and freedom to play and explore, Darvill says. "If your preschooler is playing in the mud or role playing with you or a peer, he is learning what he needs to learn."

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