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Can You Boost Your Child’s Intelligence?

What makes a smart kid may surprise you
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"Close, affectionate relationships throughout childhood are important, but especially when a child is little," says Pat Wolfe, EdD, educational consultant and co-author of Building the Reading Brain. One way to attune to your child is to listen closely and make eye contact. "If you only pretend to listen because you're distracted, kids pick up on that really fast," she says. Other ways to connect? With your facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and other nonverbal signals. When your child is older, one of the best things you can do is to talk about the day, she says.

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," she says.

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."

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