Watching a child learn and grow is truly a pleasure; each day, parents are delighted as their child discovers new experiences, develops new skills, and comes to understand more about the world around her.
During these precious early years, parents wish to do everything in their power to enhance their child’s learning and give her all she needs to be successful both personally and academically.
Fortunately, there is good news for hopeful parents: Intelligence is more malleable and dynamic than was previously thought, meaning that there’s a great deal parents can do to encourage their children to excel intellectually. Understanding the mind of your child, with all of its unique aptitudes, can unlock potential far beyond that which can be measured by IQ tests.
Navigating The Journey Of Intelligence
Intelligence is not a finite property to be measured; it is a process to be explored, an adventure you and your child go on together.
Being considered “smart” should not be all about test scores and other indicators of performance; instead, it should focus on self-knowledge, fulfilling and constructive relationships, and producing a sense of accomplishment.
Many modern child development specialists say that parents should attempt to create what is known as a “growth mindset.” This can be accomplished through the use of the following six strategies:
1. Respond to your child in a way that encourages curiosity and exploration.
Parents must be careful not to shut their children down when they express their thoughts; try to avoid responding to your child in a way that is indifferent or invalidating (e.g. immediately dismissing an idea as impossible). Instead, ask open-ended questions that encourage your child to explore all of the various possibilities at hand, thereby becoming more aware of the impact her actions could have on herself and those around her.
Even if your child is misbehaving, avoiding invalidation is important; your child should explore why she is behaving the way she is and why there are consequences to said behaviour. This will expand your child’s perspective on the world and teach her to consider multiple points of view.
2. Don’t go overboard with rules.
While it’s true that children need structure and boundaries to feel secure, research has revealed that too many household rules (half a dozen or more) can stifle a child’s creativity. This is relevant to the development of intelligence because it has been demonstrated that creative individuals are more broad-minded, intuitive, empathetic, open to new opportunities, autonomous, and possess superior problem-solving skills. In short, they are better able to make “smart” decisions and adapt to changing (and challenging) situations.
Any rules you put into place should therefore be necessary (focused on ensuring the basics of family health and safety) and easily explained to your child. Likewise, she should not be reprimanded for questioning these rules; not only should your child feel that challenging authority is acceptable, it’s important that she be allowed to develop her sense of right and wrong by drawing on diverse sources of information. Doing this will give her a stronger sense of identity and the confidence to take more intellectual risks.
3. Do not try to “entertain” your child.
Interacting with your child in a loving, focused way is essential to helping her develop her mind; entertaining her, on the other hand, is not. Many parents feel as though it’s their responsibility to swoop in and rescue their children from boredom, but in reality, research has revealed that making children think of ways to entertain themselves is ultimately more mentally stimulating. Indeed, even if your child does nothing but sit down and “zone out” for a while, you’re doing her a favour; periods of quiet reflection are key to processing information and learning to understand one’s self.
Rather than feeding your child ideas for activities every time she complains about being “bored,” offer to participate with her in an activity of her choice—after she has decided on one of her own volition.
4. Demonstrate a passion for intellectually stimulating activities.
Children learn primarily through observation; what they see their parents doing, they immediately wish to emulate. As such, you should make a point of sharing your own intellectual interests and pursuits with your child; let her see you reading, writing, being creative, etc., and tell her why these activities give you a sense of achievement and enhance your well-being. Emphasize the joy inherent in the process of learning and creating rather than focusing on a static end result like being or appearing smarter. This is especially important for children identified as gifted.
5. Promote a healthy attitude towards failure.
Whether a person is five or fifty, nothing is more stifling to the learning process than a deep fear of failure. Allow your child to take risks even when you know that the probability of failure is high, rather than protecting her from her own inexperience (assuming, of course, that her idea will not risk her safety). When your child does fail, assure her that failure is normal and okay, then sit down with her and help her to explore the reasons why she failed. Once she understands where she went wrong, gently guide her as she contemplates possible solutions.
6. Make sure reading and music are a part of everyday life at home.
Linking a love of reading and music to higher intelligence is no mere cliché; numerous studies have shown that reading sparks the imagination and engenders a thirst for knowledge, while music (especially playing music) can boost attention, motivation, learning, and memory skills. Additionally, reading gives your child a number of fictional models to draw from when processing new situations, leading to a more complete perspective and a better ability to empathize with others.
Most children take to music quite readily, but encouraging a lifelong love of reading can prove more challenging. For best results, read your child a bed time story during her early years, then gradually replace that tradition with a period of “family reading time” in the evening.
If you implement the above strategies, not only will you raise a more intelligent child, you will enjoy a closer relationship with her. As you and your child exchange ideas and tackle challenges, you will find your own perspective on the world expanding and changing for the better. That’s the beauty of parenting: As much as we teach, we learn.
Dr. Tali Shenfield is an expert in giftedness and creativity and she is an author of one of the most widely used online gifted screening questionnaires. During her career, Dr. Shenfield has worked with hundreds of gifted children and she strongly believes that no child should be left behind and that teachers and educators should do much more to encourage and develop creativity in children. After all, creativity will be the most important skill for the 21st Century.