Parents, caretakers, and educators all want to play a part in raising smart kids. When it comes to bright, above-average kids, some characteristics are inherent, and some are learned. Raising smart kids starts at a very young age—there are things parents can do for and with their kids from infancy to ensure that a good start is underway. Even if not every kid is destined for genius, there are still many practices that go into making sure that your kid reaches his or her full potential when it comes to smarts. The following infographic takes a look at some traits—and tips—to see what goes into making your kid a genius. Some characteristics of smart kids are more expected than others. For example, turning off the television for children under two years old can make a huge difference in boosting brain power, as can promoting plenty of good exercise when those kids get a little older. But when it comes to discovering the most important tactic for fostering a bit of genius in your kid, you may be surprised to hear the answer.
Someone recently sent me this graphic about raising smarter kids. It pretty much speaks for itself, especially for those of us who are visual learners (that's me!). Check it out:
Developed by OnlinePsychologyDegree.net
When children bite, we tend to respond viscerally and angrily. This is one of those behaviors that is so unacceptable in our worlds that we become embarrassed by our child's behavior. I've heard of all kinds of responses, from biting the child back (seriously?) to yelling and everywhere in between. If we set aside our own embarrassment at the situation, we'll end up with a much better outcome for everyone. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are dealing with a child who doesn't automatically know the rules of our adult world.
I was in a class recently where one child bit another. I was so impressed with how the teacher handled this situation that I wanted to share it. A biting incident affects everyone involved: the biter, the bitee and the witnesses. The first reaction from the teacher was of course to tell the biter NO, and put him in a time-out. This allowed her to deal with the immediate physical need of the bitee. Once the wound was cleaned and bandaged, this child was able to relatively quickly re-engage with the rest of the class in their activities.
Now of course all of the children in the class needed to verbalize what had happened. Such behavior can be shocking to all who see it. So whenever someone new came into the room (and in this case, the teacher called for another teacher to stay with the class while she dealt with the biter), they proceeded to tell her exactly what had happened. This is how children process things. So the best thing this new teacher did was reassure the children that biting is never okay, the bitee is fine now, and their teacher is talking to the biter. She didn't dwell on the event, but allowed the children to say what they needed to say and then moved them on to their next activity.
The part that is so often overlooked in these situations is dealing with the needs of the biter. When a child bites, they have lost control of themselves, and that loss of control can be frightening to them. I'm not suggesting that we condone their behavior, but we need to take care not to treat them as monsters. They are children who have made a mistake. So the teacher pulled this child out of the classroom, and very firmly explained that biting is never okay. The teacher asked the child to draw a picture for his friend to say he was sorry. This is an important step that allows the child to feel like he is making amends in some way. Children need to know that when they make a mistake, they can take responsibility for it and try to fix any harm they may have done--either to other people or to other's belongings. So the child drew a picture of what had happened (showing himself biting his friend), and dictated some words for his teacher to write: "I am very sorry. I won't do it again."
Once the picture was complete, the teacher had the child present the picture to his friend. She gathered the whole class around to witness this. She read the words on the page for the children. Now the next part could not have been predicted, but it was very powerful. The bitee immediately hugged the biter. The teacher made a big deal of this and said "Oh, good! You forgive him! I'm so glad." And the biter was welcomed back into the class by all the children. This was such a great way to come full circle on this incident for everyone involved.
It's easy to deal with the physical repurcussions of such an incident and simply punish the biter. But a better solution for everyone--biter, bitee, and witnesses--is to show the children both that biting is unacceptable and alse that people make mistakes. This deals with the equally important emotional aspects of such a situation.
In our oh-so-efficient world, it can be hard to slow down and let your child do things at his own speed. Really hard. Like, we've-got-an-appointment-to-get-to-and-I-do-not-have-time-to-wait-10-minutes-while-you-insist-on-putting-on-your-shoes-all-by-yourself. But it's so important to your child's self-esteem to let them learn to do things on their own. So how do we reconcile our own scheduled lives with our children's need to learn in their own way and at their own pace?
My first suggestion is certainly not rocket science, but it's amazing how many people forget this one. Allow twice as much time to get out the door as you think you need. This is hard to get used to, but truly makes all the difference. It's like building in time to stop and smell the roses, only in this case, you're stopping to connect with your child and build their self-esteem along the way. So if they want to zip their jacket by themselves, let them. If they need to make jack-in-the-box pop up one more time, let them. Time is not unlimited, of course, so give them lots of warnings and countdowns in response to the "one more time" pleas (you can do it 2 more times, and then we have to stop; you have till I count to 3 to finish; etc.).
Unfortunately there will be times when, despite best intentions, this is not possible. But really monitor yourself to see how often you're telling your child to hurry up. For pre-schoolers and younger, I try not to "hurry them up" more than once or twice a day. But when you do need to do this, try it this way: tell your child "You are really good at getting your shoes on by yourself. We have to really hurry, though, so show me how fast you can do it." If that still doesn't do it, then try saying "maybe you could let me help you this time." The key to this strategy's effectiveness, though, is not to use it too often.
As we move into the elementary years, we can adjust our expectations a bit. By now, we want children to start taking more responsibility for getting ready in an appropriate amount of time. You may still have to give them a countdown (5 minutes until we leave), but hopefully they are better at resisting the temptation to play that game "just one more time." So my strategy at this age is to insist "chores" are done before we get distracted. And in this case, chores include things like being dressed, breakfast eaten, teeth brushed, and shoes on.
The most important part of slowing our busy lives down is simply scheduling time to spend with your child each and every day. Set aside your own chores and work to give your full attention to your child. Follow their lead with what they want to do, but then work to scaffold with them. Rather than do things for them during play time, ask leading questions to help your child discover things on his own. For example, in a matching game, which way is that line pointing? And which way is this other line pointing? Oh, they're pointing in different directions. So what does that mean? They are not a match. So what should we do now?
As with most things, all of these techniques are easier to manage when we have only 1 child. But many of us have more than that. You can certainly spend quality time with all of your children together, but it is important to establish a routine with each child individually, as well. You may not need (or be able) to have quality one-on-one time with each child every day, but figure out a way to do this at least every week. I have done things like have special dinner dates with each of my children, or play a game with one of them in their room while the other was watching a TV show.
The point is just to make time to be with them in their world, on their terms.
What the heck is inhibitory control, anyway? Simply put, it's the ability to stop yourself from doing something. Think of it as impulse control. And it's something we work on throughout our entire lives. As children, we learn to stop bad behavior like running in a classroom or pushing or hitting. As adults, we learn to resist other temptations--like brownies. What we often forget as adults is that something that seems easy or even obvious to us may not be for children.
Good inhibitory control is something we learn, usually because someone teaches us. Now certainly, you can accomplish this by simply screaming NO! at your child, but there comes a point when they will rebel against this. And we'd so much rather avoid this kind of power struggle (we need to save that kind of energy for the much bigger battles we'll face with our children). So the goal is to find a way to instill this ability in our children, but in a way that makes it fun (or at least not like a punishment).
The first way to do this is, ironically, to make a game out of it. You know those freeze-dance games kids love to play? This is a great example of that. Another favorite is red light-green light, or Simon Says. The key in each of these games is being able to stop our bodies from moving. And that's where inhibitory control starts. So now I'm going to add an additional twist to these games. Create a hand motion with your child that means stop. I've seen lots of people using sign language for this (I do that all the time), but it is just as effective if you want to put your hand up, palm out, in the global manner of saying stop. I've also seen people use "hands up" very effectively. The point is, pick a particular motion (that requires you to physically move something on your body) and couple that with a phrase, and use these two together consistently. Every time you want your child to "stop" doing something, use your trigger phrase and motion.
This is a little like Pavlov's dog, but it is very effective. Because instead of telling your child NOT to do something, you're telling them TO DO something else instead. You're replacing the undesired behavior with a more acceptable one. Start by doing this in the games mentioned above until your child is familiar with your chosen phrase and motion. Then try it out in other situations--at the park when they're about to push another child, or at the grocery store when they're about to pull something off a shelf.
Once you and your child have gotten good at this, the next strategy for teaching inhibitory control is what I call "honor the impulse." That is a whole blog topic unto itself, so check it out by clicking on the discipline category to the right if you're interested.
-Amy Shinohara, Owner of Hearts & Minds Music
For many of us, this is a happy and joyful time of year. But I can't help thinking ofpeople who have lost loved ones this past year, and wonder how their holidays are shaping up. As much as we try to protect our children from all things bad/sad, they will eventually have to deal with death. Sometimes this is because a beloved pet passes away, sometimes it is a grandparent, sometimes it's a person even closer to them than that.
In my family, we have dealt with death on a number of different levels. My children surprise me each time with their reactions to grief. Children (especially young children) cope with grief very differently than adults do.
A counselor I know uses a metaphor of a butterfly to explain how children deal with death. They fly around, living their normal lives, and occasionally land long enough to ask a question or maybe even cry, but then they go right back to playing as if nothing happened. This can be disconcerting to us as adults--do our children not really care about this loved one? Do they not understand what has happened, or the permanence of the situation?
I have learned it is best to follow your child's lead (as with many things). Offer simple explanations for what has happened, and then stop. Our explanations will always differ based on the specifics of the situation and based on our respective beliefs. But it's important to allow children to ask whatever questions they want. If they ask a question, answer it honestly, in terms they can understand, and then leave it alone. When they're ready to know more, they'll ask. This allows them to process things in their own time and in their own way.
Children's age will also play a significant role in how they move through their grief. We lost our dog when my children were 5 and 1. As you can imagine, my 1-year-old didn't really even notice anything had happened. But my 5-year-old did. We bought the book Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant (I believe there is a comparable book called Cat Heaven), and this was a lovely way to depict our dog's passing, and it helped him feel better about what had happened. (By the way, I highly recommend these books for dealing with the loss of a pet--they really provide great starting points for your own conversations.) When asked the inevitable "why did she die" question, we could answer by saying her body just got too old to work anymore. So even though her body is gone, her spirit is in Heaven doing all the things she loved to do on Earth.
A little harder to deal with was the death of my grandmother. My children were now 9 and 5. Flash-forward a few years and my children are 9 and 5. She was my children's great-grandmother, so the relationship was a little more distant for them, but they definitely knew her and had experiences with her. This was a very close relationship for me, so my own grief was much more intense. She had influenced my life is ways too numerous to count. So my children, of course, picked up on the intensity of my emotions. My 9-year-old actually became physically ill when we were at the gravesite. I think he was just old enough to begin to comprehend what had really happened, and it troubled him. Again, in this case, we could explain that her body had gotten so old that it just sort of stopped working. My 5-year-old mostly parroted things back to us that he heard us say, like "It's so sad that Great Nana died." And then, like the butterfly, he would be back to playing with his cars and his blocks as if nothing had happened. So you can imagine the roller coaster this has me on--as an adult, I want to talk about my grief and re-live all of my memories with Nana. I had to work really hard to separate my grief from my children's. I am lucky to have a husband who quite willingly took my children out for activities to give me the time I needed to deal with this. And, inevitably, there were moments that my children saw my raw grief--there was only so much I could keep from them.
This past year (my children are now 11 and 7), we had to deal with the death of a school-mate. There are no easy or reassuring explanations in a situation like this. This was a tragedy of the hardest kind: it was a sudden death resulting from an equally sudden illness. Because the child was close in age to my own children, we had to deal with not just the grief, but the fear of something happening to them or another one of their friends. Every time someone got sick, you could see the panic in their eyes and the questions of "is this person going to die, too?"
My 11-year-old had the cognitive wherewithal to move through his daily routines and thus help himself move through the grief. And my 7-year-old had lots of "butterfly landings." They both cried at different points. My younger one would suddenly say "It's so sad that _____ died," or would very matter-of-factly announce to a stranger that a friend in his school had died. We got more than a couple of stunned expressions, and people really not knowing whether to believe him or not. And again, as adults, we would want to talk about the situation with him. But that's not what he wanted (or needed). He needed to say what he said, ask what he asked, and then move on and not dwell on it.
Sometimes there are no answers, only questions, and time to heal. If the healing seems insurmountable for you or your child, I highly encourage you to find professional counseling. For your child, it's important to find someone skilled in working specifically with children. Pediatricians can be great resources to find a good child psychologist or other type of counselor.
My favorite Kindermusik class is Kindermusik for the Young Child. Don't get me wrong--I love all the classes. But our other classes can be enjoyed and valued by all children, regardless of their predilection for music. Our Young Child class is where children really start to become budding musicians.
Children at this age can already match a steady beat and sing simple melodies on pitch. We start with that foundation and build on it. In their first year, children learn to read and play simple rhythms and pentatonic melodies. They find their singing voices and figure out how to make their singing voice sound different from their speaking voice. We study Mozart and The Magic Flute and Peter and the Wolf. We learn all the different instrument families and the instruments of the orchestra.
By the end of their second year, children are able to read all the notes of a C-major scale (plus b-flat and f-sharp). They learn to play three different instruments: simplified versions of keyboard, string and woodwind instruments. They learn rhythm notations ranging from quarter note to eighth note to whole note. They learn about music history and music cultures. This year, we study Tschaikovsky's Nutcracker and we explore music genres from around the world.
If your child loves music, or you're thinking about private music lessons for them, this is the class for you. We introduce all concepts in a fun, game-filled atmosphere. As one parent put it, we "trick them into learning" so they don't even realize that they're learning. And that's the best way for children to learn--through play.
No one said it'd be easy, but don't you wish someone had told you how hard it can be sometimes?
The early childhood years are the most critical time for parents and children. As my father put it, you have until they're about 10 to mold them and teach them values because after that they're going to start to rebel and do things their own way. I gotta give him credit, because he hit the nail on the head with that one.
It's the early years that set our children up for success (or not). Research shows that the best predictor of success is a person's social/emotional intelligence. So all those things we teach our toddlers and pre-schoolers--like saying please and thank you, learning to share and take turns--are the foundation for everything else they will learn and do in their lives. The job of pre-schoolers is learning how to get along with other people and make friends.
Once they hit elementary school, children learn to read and add and multiply. Again, these are the cornerstones for the rest of their school years. If they leave elementary school able to do these things, they will have success in middle school and high school. Trying to remediate a reading delay in high school is much harder than addressing the problem in elementary school to begin with. Not to mention the psychological effects that are wrapped up in this. Children decide at a pretty young age if they're "smart". They can readily tell you who the smart kids are in their class. Similarly, they can also tell you who the "dumb" ones are.
If children have trouble making friends or think they are dumb, where do you think that leads them for the rest of their lives? Too often people assume that these early years are not nearly as important as college and high school. After all, it's in those latter years that children are accepted into college and find their first job. But if we haven't set them up for success in the early years, then those latter years (which are already fraught with added difficulties) become even more difficult.
If you can successfully guide your children through their youngest years, then those teenage years and beyond will be so much easier.
I love the storytime in our classes! Reading to children is one of my favorite things to do, and there are ways to do it that will actually promote literacy in your children. Here is my top ten list of ways to get your kids interested in reading.
- As babies, simply make books available to them. This means letting your child chew on the book if she wants to--so buy board books or cloth books.The goal is for children to have positive thoughts about books as objects, even if they don't yet understand the content. If your kids (or you!) like reading just because it's an excuse to sit in your lap, that's great!
- As they become toddlers, repetition is key. This means reading and re-reading the same books over and over again. Children will start to memorize the story, and you'll find them "reading" it to themselves. Even though they're not actually reading the words, they will feel good about themselves as readers.
- At this age, choose books with relatively simple and predictable story-lines. They're not quite old enough to understand humor or sarcasm, but they love beautifully illustrated books.
- Speaking of illustrations, comment on the pictures and point out how they tell the story, too.
- As they become pre-schoolers, ask lots of questions about the book. What do you think happens next in the book? How do you think Eeyore felt when Rabbit said that?
- Encourage their involvement with the book. For example, read books with a repetitive phrase (like "I think I can, I think I can" or "Ding Dong"). This will encourage them to anticipate what comes next, and it also makes them feel like they're reading. One of my favorite memories is of my son when he was about 4. He was "reading" to a younger child. Now this basically consisted of him saying that repetitive phrase on every page that it appeared, and the whole rest of the book he just pointed to the words and said "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know." The younger child was completely enthralled, and my son felt like he was really reading some of the words.
- Another way to involve them in the book is for you to read the first part of a sentence and let them finish it for you (The cow jumped over the ______).
- And as children become older pre-schoolers and early elementary age, the will love to act out the book. This is especially great if the story-line is a little complex. By acting it out, you are showing them what happens in the story.
- Pick books with a subject matter that appeals to your child. When we were potty training, we read all the potty training books. When we were sick, we read Bear Feels Sick. You can find a children's book written about almost any problem you can think of.
- Let your children see you read--this more than anything will show them that you think reading is important and interesting.
There's a reason it's called the terrible two's. Your child is now at an age where she knows what she wants, but can't always communicate it effectively. And there's no reasoning with a child at this age--logic hasn't taken hold in their brains yet. So how de we survive this stage without losing our minds?
The single most effective solution I have found for this age is what I call "honor the impulse." The idea is this: if your child wants something, acknowledge that they want it. That doesn't mean you give it to them, it just means you let them know that you understand what they're saying.
So you're in a grocery store with Johnny, and Johnny spies cookies. All he can think about is COOKIES. He points to them, stares at them, says something that maybe resembles the word cookies. Many people in this situation would try to distract their child, hoping that if they don't call attention to the cookies, maybe Johnny will just forget about them. But Johnny is past the distraction age--what worked so well when he was younger doesn't help so much now. So maybe you try the direct approach: no, you can't have the cookies. Now poor Johnny bursts into tears and you're left trying to decide if you soldier on (subjecting everyone else in the store to Johnny's temper tantrum) or give up and leave the store.
But there's an in-between approach that might just avoid the temper tantrum without giving in to Johnny's demand. As soon as Johnny becomes fixated on the cookies, say to him "You see those cookies. They look good, don't they? You really want those cookies, don't you? Maybe we can get those cookies another time, but today we have to get other things." It seems so deceptively simple, right? And you're probably worried that this will totally backfire and result in an even bigger temper tantrum. But try it--you'll be amazed at how well this works.
From your child's perspective, you've communicated to him that you understand his wishes. And that is a big deal for him, since he isn't yet speaking fluently. You acknowledge his desire, and then you tell him WHY he can't have what he wants. This part is critical--don't skip it. If it's something that he could have at another time, let him know that. If it's something he will never be allowed to have or do, explain why (safety, health, or even just "we don't do that in our family").
Now, I can't promise you this will work every single time--but it works for me probably 90% of the time. I use this all the time in my classes. "Oh, you see those bells! We are going to pley with those in just a minute, but first we have to sing hello." Or: "Oh, you're remembering the animals we played with last time. My animals are sleeping right now, so they can't play. But maybe when you come next time, we can say hello to them."
Honor your child's impulses first, and then navigate toward your message. You'll both be happier in the long run by taking this approach.
Did you know that music is one of the only activities that stimulates all areas of the brain? The picture above is one of my favorites, because it really captures this concept. Music, art, and play are the only 3 activities that really feed your child's brain.
Maybe you've heard of the whole left-brain/right-brain thing. It basically says different skills are controlled by different parts of the brain. Most of us are dominant on one side of our brain or the other. Left-brain people tend to like numbers, detail, logic. These are linear or sequential thinkers. Right-brain people are thought of as more creative and spontaneous. Their thought process is more fluid and intuitive. Interestingly, most learning disabilities are the result of a deficiency in one side of the brain. So the ultimate goal is to learn to use both sides of our brain effectively. And music is a great way to do this.
Music has lots of components to it. Think of the rhythm as the math portion of music. There is no better way to learn fractions than by learning how to read rhythm. Musicians know that 4 quarter notes = 1 whole note, 2 eighth notes = 1 quarter note, etc. Melody, on the other hand, is the verbal or feeling portion of the music. It is the melody that tries to communicate with us--it can be happy, sad, angry, or anything in between. And then the harmony adds to the complexity of the music (think about analyzing poetry or good literature, where you have to be aware of the undercurrents running throughout).
To get the maximum benefit from music, it need to be part of your child's daily routine. You could incorporate songs throughout the day to signal transitions for your child (for example, I have a clean-up song I use for picking up toys, a bedtime song I use for naps and night-time, a washing hands song, etc.). I also listen to music as I'm driving--sometimes this is "kids" music, but just as often it's music I enjoy. And whenever I can, I take them to live music performances--this could be free concerts in the park (especially at the youngest ages), but I also took my children to symphony concerts at a young age (we always planned to leave early, since there is only so much sitting-still a child can do at a young age). Talk about the music you hear in different places, and why you like different songs. All of these things will build a love of music in your child, and keep their brains healthy at the same time.