Can You Boost Your Child’s Intelligence?
What makes a smart kid may surprise you
Connecting with you helps a child's brain develop, says Thompson, because
neurons get connected through social connection and language. Childhood
learning is also often motivated by close relationships. "Kids become
interested in learning because learning is valuable to the people who matter,"
By contrast, when children don't feel safe and secure, it impacts their
ability to learn.
The amygdala is a structure in the brain that regulates emotion. When
children feel threatened, the amygdala creates a fight-or-flight response -- a
chain reaction that allows emotion to overrule rational thought by "shutting
down" the thinking parts of the brain. Early or long-term stress in a child's
life can lead to changes in this part of the brain, making that child more
susceptible to stress and less susceptible to learning. But close, loving
relationships can protect against this barrier to early learning.
Your Child's IQ: Experience Sculpts the Brain
"The brain is the only organ in the body that sculpts itself through
experience," says Wolfe. She adds that we now know experiences actually change
and reorganize a child's brain structure and physiology.
Instead of seeing a child's intelligence as a dynamic process, parents too
often think of the brain as a vessel that can be simply filled up with
knowledge, says Thompson. But that's not the way becoming intelligent works,
especially for young children.
"The best learning occurs through active engagement," he says. "A child is
thrilled to be counting peas in the context of gardening, measuring ingredients
in the context of working with a recipe, or sorting nails in the context of
building a birdhouse."
Wolfe agrees: a variety of learning experiences in the real world are good
for a child's intelligence. Even at the grocery store, children learn a lot by
weighing foods, reading labels, and counting change.
Although eliminating TV and video games may not be entirely realistic, Wolfe
says that too much time with media like these puts children in a receptive
mode. And that keeps them from a rich, natural interaction with the real world
- so important for a child's brain development.
Your Child's IQ: Do You Need Fancy Toys?
At the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, Lisa Oakes, PhD, a professor of
psychology and specialist in infant cognition, studies another aspect of
childhood intelligence. She examines how infants categorize and make sense of
the visual world -- research that makes her question the push by parents to
boost a child's IQ with fancy toys.
"We know that stimulation is good for the development of the brain," says
Oakes. You probably know that infants need different colors and textures and
experiences. "But it doesn't all need to come in one toy," she says.
From her research, she's learned that infants are more interested in the
action of a toy than the outcome it produces -- so babies don't need expensive
gadgets with lots of "bells and whistles" to learn. But if a certain toy is fun
for a parent, it may still have a benefit, she says. That's because babies
learn through their parents' reactions, too.