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Can You Boost Your Child’s IQ?

What makes kids smart may surprise you
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD

You probably already that know genetics along with good nutrition, protection from toxins, and plenty of playtime and exercise all work together to nurture a child's intelligence. But is there something more you can do to actively boost your child's IQ?

Surprisingly, most child development experts aren’t touting the flashiest new toys or computer programs or even the latest Baby Mozart video. But they do have insights you may find useful in helping your child reach his or her full intellectual potential.

How does a child's brain develop?

From before birth to age 4, an infant's brain grows explosively. In fact, your child's brain has reached 90% of its adult size before kindergarten. This period of great growth provides an ideal window of opportunity for learning.

But the brain doesn't stop developing at age 4. It continues to organize and restructure throughout childhood and on into early adult life, becoming more complex. Unfortunately, knowing about the brain's early growth has prompted many parents to panic about their child's IQ or push their kids into "primo preschools."

"It's a classic American concern," Ross A. Thompson, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis says,  "how to accelerate learning. Many parents believe that if their children learn fast early, they will remain accelerated. But children learn best at a natural rate. Those who show early advances settle out by the time they reach grade school. Others catch up."

The early years do matter, Thompson says. "But lower circuits in the brain must be built before higher circuits, and advanced skills must be based on basic skills," he says.

Emotion drives learning

One of these basic skills involves creating a template for close relationships, usually through early attachment to parents and caregivers. Critical to your child's emotional and social development, attachment also helps build your child's intelligence.

Being attuned to your child's inner mental life helps your child's developing brain become integrated, according to Daniel J. Siegel, MD, director of the Center for Human Development at the UCLA School of Medicine. Writing in Infant Mental Health Journal, Siegel, who studies how relationships affect learning, says being attuned also provides a "safety net" for your child's brain.

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