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What Makes Kids Intelligent?

Raising Smart Kids

Build Mental Muscle continued...

Sports, music, and other activities demanding focused attention and discipline and stimulate mental development -- but don't force children to adopt your own interests. "Just because Dad enjoyed hockey as a child doesn't guarantee that his own children will," Darvill says.

Each child's interests and learning strategies are unique, Gottfredson agrees. To develop intelligence, we must not neglect ambition, courage, and conscientiousness, which are equally important for success. We mustn't forget to teach children how to learn.

"Few people work to their potential, or even realize what it is," she says. "Encourage children to develop the attitudes and tools for making the best use of their minds."

Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, is director of the PACE Center and IBM professor of psychology and education at Yale University. "If we take into account how children think, we can improve their achievement," Sternberg tells WebMD. "If we teach in a way that is relevant to children's abilities, we get much better results."

Use It or Lose It

As early environmental effects wear off, intelligence training should be a lifelong pursuit. Nourished by a healthy diet and encouraged to use her unique gifts most effectively, your child should be off to a running start.

"If you can accelerate children's ability to learn -- even temporarily -- the knowledge they've acquired may still be with them 20 or 30 years later," Dickens says. "Some skills stay with you your whole life. Parents can permanently affect their child's job success and income, even if they can't permanently change his IQ."

According to the "Flynn effect" discovered by James R. Flynn, PhD, a political scientist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, the average IQ for the population as a whole increases with each generation. He tells WebMD that the best gift you can give your child is a love for learning and for satisfying work.

"If you do that for your child, for heaven's sake don't worry about IQ," Flynn says. "They have got what makes life rewarding anyway."

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