How To Make Your Kids Smarter: 10 Steps Backed By Science
I've explored the science behind what makes kids happier, what type of parenting works best and what makes for joyful families. But what makes children — from babies up through the teen years — smarter?
Here are 10 things science says can help:
1. Music Lessons
Plain and simple: research show music lessons make kids smarter:
In fact musical training helps everyone, young and old:
(More on what the music you love says about you here.)
2. The Dumb Jock Is A Myth
Dumb jocks are dumb because they spend more time on the field than in the library. But what if you make sure your child devotes time to both?
Being in good shape increases your ability to learn. After exercise people pick up new vocabulary words 20% faster.
A 3 month exercise regimen increased bloodflow to the part of the brain focused on memory and learning by 30%.
(More on how exercise can make you and your kids smarter and happier here.)
3. Don't Read To Your Kids, Read With Them
Got a little one who is learning to read? Don't let them just stare at the pictures in a book while you do all the reading.
Call attention to the words. Read with them, not to them. Research shows it helps build their reading skills:
(More on things most parents do wrong here.)
4. Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid
Missing an hour of sleep turns a sixth grader's brain into that of a fourth grader.
There is a correlation between grades and average amount of sleep.
(More on how to sleep better here.)
5. IQ Isn't Worth Much Without Self-Discipline
Self-discipline beats IQ at predicting who will be successful in life.
From Charles Duhigg's excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:
Grades have more to do with conscientiousness than raw smarts.
Who does best in life? Kids with grit.
(More on how to improve self-discipline here.)
6. Learning Is An Active Process
Baby Einstein and braintraining games don't work.
In fact, there's reason to believe they make kids dumber.
Real learning isn't passive, it's active.
(More on how to teach your child to be a hard worker in school here.)
7. Treats Can Be A Good Thing — At The Right Time
Overall, it would be better if kids ate healthy all the time. Research shows eating makes a difference in children's grades:
There are always exceptions. No kid eats healthy all the time. But the irony is that kids often get "bad" foods at the wrong time.
Research shows caffeine and sugar can be brain boosters:
They're also potent rewards kids love.
So if kids are going to occasionally eat candy and soda maybe it's better to give it to them while they study then when they're relaxing.
(More on the best way for kids to study here.)
8. Happy Kids = Successful Kids
Happier kids are more likely to turn into successful, accomplished adults.
And what's the first step in creating happier kids? Being a happy parent.
(More on how to raise happy kids here.)
9. Peer Group Matters
Your genetics and the genetics of your partner have a huge effect on your kids. But the way you raise your kids?
Not nearly as much.
Via Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference:
So what does have an enormous affect on your children's behavior? Their peer group.
Living in a nice neighborhood, going to solid schools and making sure your children hang out with good kids can make a huge difference.
What's the easiest way for a college student to improve their GPA? Pick a smart roommate.
(More on the how others affect your behavior without you realizing it here.)
10. Believe In Them
Believing your kid is smarter than average makes a difference.
When teachers were told certain kids were sharper, those kids did better — even though the kids were selected at random.
- Music Lessons
- The Dumb Jock Is A Myth
- Don't Read To Your Kids, Read With Them
- Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid
- IQ Isn't Worth Much Without Self-Discipline
- Learning Is An Active Process
- Treats Can Be a Good Thing — At The Right Time
- Happy Kids = Successful Kids
- Peer Group Matters
- Believe In Them
One final note: Intelligence isn't everything. Without ethics and empathy really smart people can be scary.
As P.J. O'Rourke once said:
I hope this helps your child be brilliant.