Since my early years of professional life, I have been answering questions about gifted development and education. Unsurprisingly, I am asked to participate in an interview about raising intelligent children. As I prepared for and gave an interview recently, it was surprising how little I put emphasis on intelligence and how much I stressed simple, old-fashioned ideas about raising kids.
While my leading research, teaching, and writing have been focused on giftedness, it is not the only quality I value. In fact, I appreciate kindness, integrity, and a sense of humor more than intelligence. None of these attributes require a high IQ.
Intelligence is important. An intelligent, curious, well-developed, and disciplined mind will be an advantage in all human activities, from school to the workplace to personal relationships.
Here are my findings based on recent research on intelligence and the brain:
1. It all starts with you.
You can take care of yourself and your child by taking good care of them. Your child will thrive if you allow them to be imperfect and accept your failures as learning opportunities. (This is a critical theme in Imperfect Parents: How to Build Relationships with Your Child to Weather Any Storm.)
2. Give your child unconditional love by showing it.
Be a patient and kind parent. They find these traits reliable and warm. Grown-ups who had experienced love and warmth when they were kids tend to also pass on the compassion they have received. Kids are like a sponge, as they say, because they absorb what they see in front of them. It’s the environment that nurtures their ability and grows as time passes by.
Be attentive to your child’s curiosities and respond to their questions. It’s not just the curiosities that they need guidance, their needs and wants as a child must also be answered. It’s not the same with the concept of spoiling kids, but whether you provide or do not, they need to know and feel the appropriate acknowledgment.
4. You should make sure you have plenty of time to play.
Play is the work and learning of childhood. It is more important for your child’s brain development (up to seven years) than any time spent doing academic learning. Play is an essential part of learning and should be well-spent.
5. Encourage all senses in your child.
Your child should be able to explore the world around them from birth. Help them discover ways to learn more about something they are interested in.
6. Master mindfulness
Emotional regulation, self-control, and persistence are more important than intelligence to succeed in any area of life. Learn relaxation techniques such as mindful breathing and balance your child’s life with time spent in nature and times where they can daydream and putter.
7. Take note of your child’s physical development.
Ensure your child gets enough sleep, good nutrition, and exercise. These are all crucial brain-builders. While you enjoy your child’s growth, let them feel their surroundings and help them not to suppress their emotions.
8. Encourage your child’s imagination.
Creativity is not only a great way to learn and enrich your life, but it’s also an excellent vehicle for emotional healing. The help of imaginative play let them learn about the world. As you know, these two are unique sets of skills. The outcomes and work of childhood root in how creativity and imagination are often associated.
Start at your child’s birth and do all these things to nurture their intelligence. If your child is five, ten, or fifteen years old and you haven’t been doing any of these things yet, it’s okay. The brain’s ability to change and develop throughout life is a remarkable feature of recent research. This mechanism is called neural plasticity. The brain develops from birth to old age when we interact with the environment, engage in meaningful activities, and challenge ourselves to learn.
Many parents are shocked to discover that there are still some old-fashioned secrets for raising intelligent children. These include loving your child, being kind and patient, ensuring they get plenty of sleep, and playing a lot. But brain-building and person-building are two different things.