Whether we like to admit it or not, we’d all love our toddler to grow into a little Einstein.
The factors contributing to your child’s intelligence are countless, and many you simply have no control over. But what you can do is instil a love of learning in your child from a young age, and give them the tools to use and channel their intelligence more effectively early in life, which is when the most critical and formative brain development takes place. Be in no doubt: educational intervention at this early age plays a pivotal role in your child’s long-term academic and career prospects.
So with that in mind, let’s check out 12 ways to help your little one make the most of their natural intellect!
1. Encourage early learning
It’s never too soon to start motivating your child to explore the world around them and forge their own understanding of how it works. Even when they’re a baby, talk to your child like they’re a grownup—and as they get older and acquire basic language skills of their own, always use words slightly beyond their understanding, so they have to scrabble around for context. This puts them constantly in what psychologists call ‘the zone’. Read to them aloud, and point along so they can follow the words. This will enhance their concentration, and expedite their comprehension of what phonics specialists call sound–spelling correspondences. Expose them to simple arithmetic and fun little science experiments, too—anything to demonstrate that learning can be done anywhere, anytime.
2. Instil a love for healthy eating
Developing all that brainpower requires some serious nutrition! Try breastfeeding if it’s right for you, as your milk is incredibly high in nutrients—and at six months your baby will be ready for solids. I recommend baby-led weaning. Find foods rich in folic acid, zinc, and vitamins C and B12. These sharpen their acuity even at such an early age, and can contribute to better performance once they reach school. Shape a protein-rich diet for your child: protein improves their reasoning, alertness, and attention span. Whole grain carbohydrates make for supreme brain fuel.
What’s more, by introducing your little one to the wonders of fruit, vegetables, and a regimen of healthy snacks and meals with the occasional treat, you also embed great habits for when they’re old enough to make their own dietary decisions. And remember, all this starts even before birth: your baby gets their nutrition from you in utero, so you might want to keep a close eye on your own meals during pregnancy, too. Foods high in folic acid (or just straight folic acid supplements) are a must, although you must always consult your doctor before taking supplements when you’re pregnant.
3. Invest in intellectually demanding computer games
Computer games can be a reward for good behaviour or schoolwork—and computer games specifically designed to develop your child’s reasoning skills and improve their hand–eye coordination make learning fun, whether through arithmetic, phonics, or rhymes.
4. Introduce your child to coding
Coding is the foundation of the future’s technological innovation, so enabling your child to try it out for themselves early in life is a surefire way to moulding a little genius. Coding demands novel problem solving, inspires curiosity about the wonders of tech, and enhances both logical reasoning and computational thinking.
5. Foster their creativity
Every child has artistic tendencies, but they can be all too easily lost if you don’t cultivate them from when they’re a newborn. Expose them to art, music, literature, nature, an instrument. It helps, of course, if you’re interested in and passionate about the medium yourself—that way your enthusiasm spills over to fill them with excitement and awe.
6. Don’t overstructure their life
With some guidance and encouragement, you can instil in your child a love of planning their own day: choosing what activities they do, when, why, and with whom. Resist the temptation to produce a daily itinerary for them, though: too much structure may well have the opposite effect of that intended. Children who are constrained with a repetitive or militantly enforced schedule grow to associate learning and routine with boredom or fear of reprimand if they don’t stick to it. Let them move between activities at their own pace and of their own accord, and you’ll witness an increase in both their confidence and the speed of their decision making.
7. Don’t stop them when you foresee the possibility of failure
Risk and failure are inherent parts of life. Your child will never prosper if you don’t allow them to be in situations where failure could arise. Whether your child succeeds in that instance or not, the point is that you empowered them with agency over—and therefore accountability for—their own decisions and proficiencies. Remember: every genius was, is, and will be a risk taker. That’s because the process brings clarity, not to mention a thick skin. There’s value in failure: it makes your child assess what went wrong, and why. Only then can they innovate a solution even more novel than the last.
8. Build up their tenacity
Having grit will distinguish your child from their equally intelligent but less stoical peers. Tenacity is hard to foster in your child: it comes only if you encourage commitment, hard work and perseverance—but the dividends it will pay them throughout life are incalculable.
9. Let them solve problems
Problem solvers are deep thinkers. They eschew convention for convention’s sake and follow the Socratic method so amusingly notorious among little kids: “Why do I have to do that?”… “Yes, but why?”… “But I still don’t understand why?” Don’t dismiss this inquisitiveness—it speaks to a far more profound curiosity just waiting to burst out and be actualised as full-blown genius. Leave problems ‘lying around’ for your child to solve: will they be able to afford that chocolate bar with the change left over from this £20 note once you’ve bought the week’s groceries? How many more chairs do we need for the garden if they’ve got 15 friends and 10 parents coming to their birthday party? (And where could we even source so many chairs in the first place?)
10. Identify their talents—then nurture them
Keenly observe your child’s interests. What truly strikes awe into them, leaves them dumbfounded, agape? Many parents forget to value extracurricular intellect equally with educational advancement—so ask yourself: What pastimes does my child love pursuing when their time’s their own? Explore that path further: buy that instrument; invest in that tutor; enrol them at that after-school club. You just never know what could come of it.
11. Praise them for hard work—not for their intellect per se
Praise is a vital way of signalling to your child that they’re on the right path, that what they’re doing is not only correct but also impressive and admirable. But by the same token—and perhaps surprisingly—praising their cleverness in and of itself doesn’t have the same effect. It’s something of an empty compliment: they may feel good that you’re telling them something about themselves in a warm and positive tone, but they’re left none the wiser about why being smart is good. It’s equivalent to telling your child to “Be careful” when they’re taking a risk—there are so many better ways to convey caution. So make sure to encourage your child to complete things they start, to always do their best, and to take on board constructive criticism. Every time they go through that three-step process—to which they’ll quickly grow accustomed—you can let the praise flow like tap water.
12. Whatever you do—don’t actually call them a genius!
In private—with friends, family, your partner—extol the virtues of your little boffin’s intellect as effusively as you damn well please. But in public, magnanimity rules. It demonstrates to your child that being humble is as important as being smart—regardless of whether you actually believe that yourself—which in turn will make them a more desirable friend and playmate. And even when you’re alone with your child, be careful not to overload them with perceived expectation. This can lead to frustration on their part when they fail, or even send them down the opposite path to apathy and laziness.However you go about it, raising a genius starts from day one, at home, and in the most rudimentary way possible: simply being interested in and absorbed by whatever inspires your child. There are countless roads to genius—but they all start with you. Their ever-loving, ever-supportive, ever-praising parent.