Smart parenting for smart kids
|   Jun 02, 2011
Smart parenting for smart kids

This article, written by our editor Parul Ohri, was carried in Kids Play, the collaborative publication of Hindustan Times and

This summer you’re sure to be at ease - with more choices of activities for your children than ever before, they’ll be spending their vacation time productively.  Summer workshops, courses and camps are great- each one working on enhancing your child’s creativity, language skills, lateral thinking, motor skills etc.

But don’t let the learning stop after vacations -  just enrol into the best all-weather camp of them all - your HOME; and recruit the best teacher of them all – YOU.

Research and scientific evidence has shown that parents can raise a child’s level of intelligence substantially by the ways in which they care for him, especially during the first 6 years of his life.  Simply put, in the first few years of life, the brain forms trillions of connections every second that will shape the neurological structure of the brain.  Scientists have found that a baby's experiences - whether he's happy, whether he hears lots of music or speech, gets hugs and eye contact - actually change the physiological development of his brain - the quality and quantity of the electrical wiring between cells.  And the better they're wired, the better his life will likely be.  The process, however does not last forever. Without ample and appropriate stimulation, unused neurons in a young child’s brain will wither and die, resulting in the brain losing much of its capacity and potential.

And because we know very little about what growing brains need, even the best educated and loving parents in the best of homes may probably have been stunting their children’s mental development to some extent.  As parents, our emphasis is usually more on what goes into a child’s stomach rather than what should go into their growing minds.  Their ability to use the bathroom ranks much higher on our list of milestones than being able to use their brains.  Traditionally, learning and intellectual development is entrusted entirely to teachers when the child enters organised schooling, while at home we concentrate on his or her nutritional needs and physical well being. 

Brand new parents are at an advantage here - there is plenty of literature available, telling them how to handle their babies and create a stimulating environment for them.  By the time children turn 3 or 4, we believe we have done our best from home and happily hand them over to their teachers for the rest of their learning.  

But helping enhance a child’s mind is really not complicated at all, even though the scientific translation may sound intimidating. It often takes no more time than caring for her physical needs.  Simply by being aware of what helps, we can raise children’s level of intelligence and as a result, have happier, more enthusiastic youngsters.

Understand and don’t underestimate

As a starting point, parents need to try and understand a child’s inherent and insatiable drive to learn and to explore.  Fulfil her developing brain’s urgent needs for satisfying learning experiences, just as we understand and fulfil the needs of her body for nourishing foods.

For years, we have heeded warnings of not “overstimulating” a child, we waited for our child’s “readiness to learn” to show on its own, we feared pushing or pressurising them and believed that parents don’t make the best teachers.  But the truth is that we normally underestimate what children should be learning.  Their readiness to learn and their ability to acquire new skills have a direct association with the opportunity to learn that their environment provides.

Set the scene and maintain a positive bank statement

All you need to do here is maintain a loving atmosphere at home, with plenty of opportunities for children of any age to learn and explore.   Encourage that exploration and then applaud any accomplishments verbally and physically, with a big hug.   Be patient, love a lot and make sure your child knows it. 

The counsellor at my daughters’ school gave the perfect analogy to explain a child’s mind – like a bank statement.  Every loving gesture, encouragement or compliment is a deposit and every negative action, rebuke or indifference is a withdrawal.  Of course there will be negatives. But as long as we make sure there are more deposits than withdrawals in our child’s emotional bank statement, she will grow up in a happy and ‘positive’ state of mind.

Pre-empt trouble and provide alternatives

Shift the pretty glass vase to a higher shelf instead of yelling at the kids each time they go too close to it.  Block the dangerous plug point instead of going ballistic when your toddler tries to ‘explore’ those funny holes in the wall. Look around you and make things as safe or ‘child proof’ as possible – that’ll give the kids more territory to explore and bring your stress levels down several notches.

It is unrealistic to expect a small child to sit still doing nothing in a restaurant or a doctor’s waiting room.  Your child will be fussy, unhappy, angry or defiant only if he’s constantly being told to stop this and not do that and to be good.  Instead provide alternatives.  Divert her attention from the dangerous table corners by suggesting another activity.   She just wants to explore and keep her brain working, so carry a book or puzzle or toy that can keep her busy and provide the desired stimuli. 

Be democratic

Don’t we want our children to grow up to be thinking individuals who can evaluate a situation and react using his own judgement - not just obey without question.  For that end result, we need to start now - let them think through situations and come up with solutions themselves.

Give children a voice in decisions – appropriate to their age, of course.  Explain in simple basic terms why certain rules have been set up.  Your child will gradually start to evaluate alternatives.  And she will realise that the rules you enforce are based on reason, love and wisdom and not arbitrary or dictatorial which she will sometimes feel compelled to challenge.

Talk, talk, talk and listen just as much

Shocked when your son repeated the swear words you used this morning?  Well, don’t be.  Your child’s vocabulary grows explosively, in imitation of yours.   So the cleaner and more grammatically correct your language is, the better his language will be too.  Don’t be afraid to use big words that you feel your child doesn’t understand – they’ll absorb them and gradually decipher their meaning.  In fact, sometimes children love the challenge or sound of a long tough word on their tongues.

Also, use words to describe what you feel or explain the feelings of others so that your youngster understands feelings and can learn to articulate her own.  Read to children even if they do not understand the words.  This gives him a head start in developing language skills. 

Listen to your child without interrupting, as you would listen to an adult.  This reinforces his effort to communicate and develops his facility for language. If your child knows you are seriously listening to her that will make her less inclined to whine for your attention. 

Make music a part of your life

Studies have shown that listening to music can boost memory, attention, motivation and learning.  It can also lower stress that is destructive for anyone, leave alone a developing brain.  Learning to play a musical instrument has an effect on the brain’s proportional thinking and spatial temporal reasoning that lay the foundation for abstract math.  Even if you cannot provide any structured music training, start by exposing your child to different kinds of music at home – classical, popular, folk, instrumental or vocal.

Model smart behaviour

It’s not just your swear words that they imitate – for a child their parents are the ultimate role models.  If they see you engaged in reading books, writing, making music, or even eating healthy food, they will associate it with normal adult behaviour and sub-consciously imitate you.  Don’t go to extremes trying to adopt uncharacteristic ‘ideal’ behaviour, but just ensure you don’t expect your children to do something you have never done yourself.

Get out - exercise and socialise

Physical exercise not only makes your kid strong, but is also essential for overall brain development.  Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain and builds new brain cells. 

Interaction with other children and adults from different walks of life will expose your child to invaluable experiences and perspectives that will help her evaluate and make correct life choices in her own adult life.

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