Top 7 Modern Parenting Trends on How To Raise Smart Kids

Jun 23, 2018 | Brain Development | 0 comments

Smart is More than Just IQ

Many parents want to know the secret on how to raise smart kids. In the past, IQ scores are used to determine how intelligent someone is. However, from a modern parenting point of view, cognitive and emotional intelligence are just as varied and equally important when it comes to raising smart kids.

As parents, we have the unique opportunity to influence how smart (academically, cognitively, and emotionally) our children become, especially when they are young and their brain is still malleable. The family background we have, pre-natal practices we follow, the way we interact with our children, our parenting philosophies, etc. all come together in preparing your children for their path into the world as happy and healthy adults.

In this blog post, I’ve listed out everything I’ve learned as a parent on how to raise smarter, happier kids.

brain development in children

1. Family Characteristics:

Did you know that even before a child is born, you can predict a surprising amount about his or her intelligence based solely on certain facts about the family?

Although you cannot control some of these factors, it’s still good to know why some children seem to be “born smarter”.

Socioeconomic Status

Can money make your kid smarter? In a way, it does! Socioeconomic status such as parents’ education level and family income shows between a 0.4-0.6 correlation with IQ and academic performance.

With better health, more educational toys, better parenting skills, and higher-quality child care better schooling, and greater emphasis on education, it is of no surprise that better off parents tend to raise smarter kids.

Birth Order & Spacing of Children

Have you noticed your first born seems smarter than your subsequent children? If you do, you are not alone. Research has shown that birth order works to the advantage of older children. First-borns score an average of 3.5 points higher than later-born children on IQ and school achievement tests, and scores steadily decline for each additional child in a family.

IQ is also affected by birth spacing. Children born within one year of an older sibling lose about 4 points compared with children born two or more years apart. This might be due to the lesser amount of attention they get when parents are kept busy with young kids spaced so closely apart.

Only Child vs Multiples

An only child typically scores about 2-3 points lower on an IQ test than the oldest child with one or two younger siblings. One reason for this is that older children with younger siblings often have the opportunity to teach, which is an effective way of reinforcing knowledge and self-confidence.

2. Prenatal Influences:

Like many other modern parents, I am a strong believer in the benefits of prenatal influences. In fact, recent research shows a 20% of IQ variance on prenatal factors.

Here’s a list of things I did during pregnancy to ensure I give my son the best start possible.

Avoid Alcohol and Cigarettes During Pregnancy

Alcohol and cigarettes are known to negatively affect brain development and subsequent cognitive abilities of a fetus. So if you want to raise smart kids, quit drinking and smoking.

Prenatal Vitamins & Regular Prenatal Checkups

prenatal - how to raise smart kids

Improved medical care means we can now detect and prevent brain damaging illnesses and conditions more effectively. And as recommended by doctors, most pregnant women are now taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy, which greatly decreases the incidence of neural defects. To raise smart kids, you absolutely need to take care of yourself during the prenatal period.

Pregnancy Weight Gain and Birth-weight

Since IQ is a function of brain size, and brain size is related to birth weight, larger babies usually mean smarter babies. A child’s IQ rises steadily with increases in birth weight or head size up to about 4 kilograms. Since a baby’s birth weight is dependent on the amount of weight the mother gains during pregnancy, most doctors now advise women to gain between 20-30 pounds during pregnancy.

Maternal Stress

High levels of stress hormones interfere with optimal brain development both directly by acting on developing neurons, and indirectly, by altering the course of pregnancy. You can listen to relaxing prenatal music or attend prenatal yoga/meditation classes to help you relax.

Prenatal Exercise

prenatal exercise - raise smart kidsWorking out during pregnancy will give you the stamina you need for labor and delivery, and it can also strengthen your baby’s brain.

According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, children of moms who exercised during pregnancy scored higher on tests of language skills and intelligence at age 5 compared with kids of moms who don’t exercise. This is because the levels of cortisol secreted when you exercise to promote the growth and development of your baby’s brain, as well as his/her other major organs.

To raise smart kids, experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise for pregnant women every day.

3. Nutrition

Between 4 months in utero and 2 years after birth, babies’ brains are exquisitely sensitive to the quantity and quality of nutrients consumed. Children who are malnourished during this period often show substantial IQ deficits, slower language development, behavioral problems, and sensory-motor deficits. Their brains are smaller, with fewer neurons and synapses, shorter dendrite, and less myelin than normally nourished children.

To raise smart kids, you should pay attention to the food you eat during pregnancy as well as your child’s diet.

10 Pregnancy Foods to Raise Smart Babies

food - smart kids

Eating the right food during pregnancy will make your baby smarter in the womb. The following food is proven to increase a baby’s brain power:

  1. Fatty Fish: Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel are essential for babies’ brain development. According to a study, mothers who ate lessor than two fish servings every week gave birth to babies with lower IQs compared to those who ate at least two servings of fish per week.
  2. Green leafy vegetables: The folic acid contains within green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli is important for babies’ brain cell formation. In fact, research has shown that pregnant women who are on a diet of folic acid-rich foods 4 weeks before pregnancy and 8 weeks after had 40% lesser risk of having autistic babies.
  3. Fruits high in antioxidants: Antioxidants help to protect baby’s brain tissue and aid its development. Antioxidant-rich foods include pomegranates, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.
  4. Eggs: Eggs are rich in iron and protein – the two vital food sources for brain development. Amino acid choline found in eggs also stimulates brain development and increases babies’ memory. To raise smart babies, pregnant women are encouraged to eat at least two eggs a day.
  5. Almonds: Almonds contain healthy fats and omega-3s, along with fiber, protein, and vitamins that are needed for healthy brain development.
  6. Yogurt: Probiotic foods like yogurt aid in providing protein to the developing baby brain. It is also rich in calcium that is a necessity during pregnancy for baby’s bone development. For best result, Greek yogurt is the most nutritious for a baby’s mental growth and development in the womb as it contains a higher level of iodine.
  7. Vitamin-D rich roods: Vitamin D is essential in babies’ brain development. Pregnant women with low Vitamin D level are known to give birth to babies with low brain development. Vitamin D- rich food include cheese, eggs, liver, and beef.
  8. Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds is a natural food source of zinc, which aid in building the baby’s brain structure and stimulating the area of it that process information.
  9. Iron-rich foods: Iron plays an essential role in supplying oxygen to the baby’s brain cells. Eating iron-rich foods like beans, chicken, figs, spinach, and raisins will help you raise healthy and smart babies.
  10. Milk: Iodine from milk contributes to developing a healthy brain and overall mental growth.

Breastfeeding – Best Food for Babies

The single most important choice mothers can make to increase their children’s IQ is breastfeeding. Children reared on breast milk score on average 8 points higher on IQ tests at 8 years of age than those reared on formula, even after correcting for socioeconomic differences in mothers. The longer a mother breastfeeds during the first year of her baby’s life, the higher the child’s IQ.

10 Brain-building Foods to Raise Smart Kids

Certain brain foods are proven to boost a child’s brain growth – improving brain function, memory, and concentration. To raise smart kids, make sure you include the following superfoods in your child’s diet:

  1. Salmon: Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA – both essential for brain growth and function. Recent research has shown that people who get more fatty acids have sharper minds and do better at mental skills test.
  2. Eggs: Eggs are an excellent protein source. Egg yolks are packed with choline, which helps with memory development.
  3. Peanut Butter: Peanuts and peanut butter are rich in vitamin E, which is a potent antioxidant that protects nervous membranes.
  4. Whole Grains: Whole grain foods provide your child’s brain with glucose, which is essential for brain development.
  5. Oats/Oatmeal: Oats provide the energy and fuel for the brain that kids need first thing in the morning. Loaded with fiber, oats keep a child’s brain fed all morning at school. Oats also contains plenty of vitamin E, B, potassium, and zinc, all the essentials needed to make our bodies and brains function at full capacity.
  6. Berries: Berries contain high levels of antioxidants that have been proven to improve memory. In general, the more intense the color, the more nutritious they are – strawberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries.
  7. Beans: Beans are excellent brain food that makes your child smarter. They have energy from protein, complex carbs, and fiber, plus lots of vitamins and minerals.
  8. Colorful Veggies: Vegetables with rich, deep color are the best sources of antioxidants that keep brain cells strong and healthy. Examples of colorful veggies that can make kids smarter are tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, and spinach.
  9. Diary: Milk and Yogurt: Dairy foods rich in protein and B-vitamins are essential for growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. Milk and yogurt also provide the brain with both protein and carbohydrates to boost its energy.
  10. Lean Beef: Lean beef contains iron, an essential mineral that helps kids stay energized and concentrate. Research has shown that just 1 ounce of lean beef per day can help the body absorb iron from other sources better, and boost memory. For vegetarians, black bean and soy burgers are good iron-rich meatless options.

4. Activities and Physical Environment

Brain development requires stimulation, so it is hardly surprising to learn that smart kids come from homes that provide a greater opportunity to explore and a greater variety of toys and tools.

Organized Your Home and Let Your Child Explore

montessori home design

Children should not be heavily restricted, i.e locked behind gates, left for long periods in playpen or high chair, or told ”no” all the time. The home should be well organized, so the child can find toys and tools, and safe enough he or she can explore freely.

One great way to raise smart kids is to organize your home with Montessori principles in mind. From experience, living in a Montessori-inspired home helps my son to be more independent, confident, and motivated when it comes to learning and helping out around the house.

Variety of Toys

Toys are important, but sheer number matters much less than variety. The trick to effectively stimulating a child is to stay one step ahead of his or her habituation. It is, therefore, a good idea to rotate different toys and tools every week or so.

Go Outside

Children need to get out of the house for walks, to the parks, the library, etc. They need to see other children and interact with adults other than their parents and caregivers. One study found that the single factor that best-predicted infant IQ score was the baby’s exposure to other places and to other people both in and outside the home.


Physical exercise does not only make your kid strong, but it also makes your kid smart. Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain and builds new brain cells.

Let your kids be bored

bored kids - smart kids

Boredom is usually seen as a negative thing; but too much stimulation to a young child, i.e. too many toys, activities, and outings can create confusion and work to a child’s detriment, hampering his ability to focus. Noise level from TV or electronics can also interfere with language learning. Research has shown that boredom actually helps a child and encourage their ability to think. Boredom and self-reflection is a time for our kids’ brains to develop and become more creative.

Let your kids see you doing smart stuff

Kids learn from adults, especially parents and primary caregivers. To raise smart kids, you first have to do smart stuff yourself. If your child sees you engaged in reading, writing, or anything creative, it will cause them to imitate you and become smarter in the process.

Read with your child

Reading can excel your child’s intelligence. Not only does it help them to expand their vocabulary knowledge, it also develops your child’s appetite for knowledge and creativity. When you are reading with your child (not to your child), their brain process situations, create further perspective, and sparks imagination. Research has shown that access to books and one-on-one reading time is a predictor of school success.

Talk to your child

Talking is essential to communication and vocabulary development. Ask your kid open-ended questions. Don’t worry if your child is too young to understand, and don’t be afraid to use relatively sophisticated words. Your child may not understand them, but he/she will figure it eventually.

I started talking to my son ever since he was a newborn, and by the age of 1.5 years old, he can speak in fluent sentences in two different languages.

Avoid passive learning (i.e. youtube, TV)

Your child should not be watching TV before the age of 2. Letting your kid watch too much TV or youtube takes him/her away from doing activities that are more important to his/her developing brain, i.e. playing, socializing, reading.

Be aware of sensitive periods

sensory activities for toddlers - sightChildren undergo rapid brain development from birth through age 6. During this period, they pass through various “sensitive periods” in which they become intrigued and absorbed by particular aspects of their environment.

During a sensitive period, children can learn new things, master new skills, or develop aspects of their brain’s abilities almost unconsciously. These sensitive periods, however, are transitory states. Once children have mastered the skill or concept in which they were absorbed, the sensitive period seems to disappear; so if children are not exposed to the right experience and stimulation at the right time, the opportunity to learn will pass.

Learn more about the 12 sensitive periods from birth through age 6 so you can take advantage of the right timing to raise smart kids.

Make Sure Your Child Sleeps

There is a correlation between grades and the average amount of sleep. In fact, a loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to two years of cognitive maturation and development. And this is true even amongst teenagers. Teens who received A’s averaged about fifteen more minutes sleep than the B students. So if you want to raise smart kids, make sure they are sleeping well.

5. Musical Influences

What is it about classical music that is so good for mental function and brain development, and are children particularly susceptible to is magic?

Music directly activates the same patterns of spatial-temporal activity in the brain areas involved in these forms of reasoning. In fact, people who are musically talented are often also talented at skills involving spatial-temporal integration, i.e. mathematics, chess, and engineering.

In the past decades, the term Mozart Effect has gained substantial popularity claiming playing classical music for babies and kids can increase your baby’s brainpower and make kids smarter.

Learn a Musical Instrument Early

sensory activities- music

Music may be a kind of pre-language that directly activates fundamental firing patterns in young children’s brains and does so much more effectively than a real language. It is known that the vast majority of musicians with perfect pitch began their training at an early age before 7 years old, suggesting that the young brain is especially ripe for this kind of spatial-temporal honing.

Play the right type of music

Many studies have shown that getting a child to listen to music not only boosts attention, motivation, learning, and memory skills but also lowers stress. However, there are many different kinds of music available out there, some are appropriate for babies and young kids, some are not. In general, classical music that is short, melodic, and upbeat, as well as fun and engaging nursery rhymes are great for children. Here’s a list of classical music recommendation for brain and emotional development.

6. Parenting Style

Young children learn in many ways when interacting with adults. They learn about words, feelings, and how to treat other people, observe details, remember events, and solve problems.

As parents, we teach directly when we deliberately show them how something works, explain what we are doing, or reinforce their own explorations with positive attention or negative feedback. And we teach indirectly, through the example we are continually setting.

Good parenting leads to smart children who are more curious about the world, more motivated to explore and ask questions, and more persistent in finding answers.

Read more about the 5 Scientifically-Proven Ways to Maximize Brain Development in Children.

Nurturing Parents

The best parents are those who are more nurturing (physically affectionate, emotionally supportive), very involved with their children (consistently spend time in shared activities), highly responsive to their needs (accept their individuality, serve as consultants to help them solve problems).

Nurturing Infants

Babies need a lot of nurturing: holding, cuddling, cooing. They thrive on physical contact, and those who consistently experience a lot of warmth, affection, and positive feedback from their caregivers tend toward better cognitive outcomes.

Physical contact also puts infants in the best possible situation for learning, since their vision and hearing remain limited through much of the first year.

From a modern parenting point of view, here are 5 Free things newborn babies need for healthy brain development.

Nurturing Toddlers & Preschoolers

Warmth, affection, and praise continue to be very important during the toddler and preschool years, when such parental qualities are significantly associated with higher childhood IQ and EQ.

The way in which you respond to your child through various situations largely determines how they access their range of experience. For example, if you react in a restrictive way, your child would be discouraged from wanting to try new things. Instead, always encourage your child by asking open-ended questions and creating a space for them to think.

Nurturing Older Kids

For older children, nurturing primarily takes the form of emotional support and encouragement; one study of gifted teenagers found that parental support is the single family characteristic that best determined whether they would make the most of their talents.

Responsive Parenting & Always answer “whys and hows”

Responsive parenting means really listening to your child, taking the time to understand what he or she is trying to say, and engaging in lots of verbal interactions.

Sensitive, responsive caregivers also appreciate that every child is different. They respect each child’s individual needs, and equally important, teach that parents’ own needs should be respected in return.

And most importantly, never ignore your children questions because no question is insignificant. Children are learning new things, so answer their whys and hows as best as you can in simple terms that they can understand.

Involved Parenting – Put away that cellphone

involved parenting - raise smart kids

Involved parenting doesn’t mean driving your child around to lessons or arranging play dates when you sit and talk with other adults or play on your cellphone. It means direct, one-on-one interactions, in which all of our attention is focused on a joint activity with your child. For example, reading a story, singing a song, dancing together, building a sand castle, taking a nature walk, etc.

Studies have found a strong relationship between children’s IQ or academic achievement and the amount of time they spend in shared activities with their parents.

Some parents think that when they play with their children, they must choose activities with a lot of academic instruction. But that’s not true. Although some preschoolers do benefit from flashcards and more academic games, parent’s don’t need to drill their preschoolers in phonics or math sessions with their young infants to maximize their intellectual potential.

For babies, playful interactions that focus their interest on specific objects, concepts, and feelings are important. Babies whose parents do a better job of encouraging their attention actually end up smarter than those whose parents make less effort in this regards. Their vocabularies grow faster, they are more exploratory, and they even score higher on IQ tests as early as age four and as late as 18 years. The best way to sustain babies’ interest, given their short attention span, is to present variations on a theme, move their arms in different ways, or focus on different body parts, colors, shapes, or sounds. Encouraging children’s attention, even very early in infancy, helps foster their persistence and motivation they need to master ever more difficult challenges.

For toddlers and preschoolers, choose something you both enjoy – blowing bubbles, putting a train set together, backing cookies, gardening, drawing on the computer, folding laundry, and reading. Kids this age want to learn from their parents. They seek us out, and have a “I see I do” attitude. By including them in activities, you can teach them there’s pleasure in accomplishments, experimentation, and creativity. Working side by side, parents can usually coax their children to do a little more, try a little harder, than they would on their own, giving them a sense of mastery that bolsters their confidence for future endeavors. Working together also gives children a close-up view of mature thinking in action, a model of how to observe, organize, and remember details.

As children get older, they are likelier to involve activities of their choosing. No matter if you are cheering them on at soccer, helping with their homework, or taking them on camping trips, children benefit by having parents who actively participate in their lives. Parental involvement is especially useful for countering the negative aspects of peer influence and keeping a child focused on school and other positive activities.

Demanding Parents

demanding parents - raise smart kidsThese days we tend to place a great deal of weight on building children’s self-esteem. But this sometimes comes at the expense of teaching them discipline and self-control.

It turns out that children whose parents hold high expectations and are highly sensitive to their needs actually have fewer behavioral problems and perform better academically than those with more permissive parents or with demanding parents who are not very responsive. This pattern holds true whether the children are preschool-aged or adolescents.

Demanding and responsive parents expect mature behavior, but they help their children figure out how to achieve it. They consistently challenge them, but in a warm, supportive way. Remember, there’s a difference between demanding and pressuring. When parents exert unrealistic expectations on children, it becomes pressure and stress, and no one would benefit from it.

Set Limits

Limits and rules can be used to help your child learn what is acceptable and what is not so they can learn self-control and emotional intelligence. And setting actually help your child feel like you care, especially when you share with them the reason why the limit is being set, i.e. you cannot play with knives because you will hurt yourself.

Encourage Your Kid to Try Hard, Take Risks, and Fail

As parents, we all want to protect our children from feeling upset. However, to raise smart kids, it is essential that you encourage your child to keep trying and take risks.

Through the process of failing, your child will learn the fundamental life skills from an early age. Without fail, a child can develop low self-esteem and get discouraged from creating and learning for themselves.

As I always say to my son, “it doesn’t matter if you fail, as long as you have tried your best.”

Praise Efforts, Not Smartness

Parents love to praise their kids with phrases like “You are so smart!” or “You are the best!”. As much as these praises make kids feel good about themselves, children who are praised for effort in solving a problem, or achieving an accomplishment turn out to be more motivated in school than children who are told they are smart. The latter often become frustrated when something doesn’t come easy.

Dr. Carol S. Dweck once stated in her article – A Surprising Secret to Raising Smart Kids, “Don’t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on ‘process’ – not on intelligence or ability – is key to success in school and in life”.

So to raise smart kids, instead of praising smartness, give kudos for accomplishments, and how proud you are with their effort.

7. Schooling

IQ and education are related to each other. But do people with higher IQs simply stay in school longer because they find it rewarding, or does increased schooling actually raise a person’s IQ? The answer is both.

It is certainly true that people with higher IQs tend to do better in school, so they are more motivated to stick with it. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that school itself makes children smarter, not only academic abilities but IQ itself actually rises with each year of formal education.

Should I delay entry into formal schooling?

In recent years, there has been a trend for parents to hold their children back a year before beginning them in kindergarten or in first grade. Although there is some evidence that younger children in a class are more likely to have academic problems than older children, when researchers compared the cognitive achievement of younger first-graders versus older ones, there was no difference seen. By the middle school years, age becomes even less of a factor in children’s cognitive performance.

In other words, school-readiness is not a factor in a child’s long-term intellectual development.

Does Preschool Increase a Child’s Intelligence?

choosing best preschool for child

It depends, on the quality of the preschool. There’s evidence that high-quality day care improves the cognitive and academic performance in young children. These preschools offer an excellent way to increase a child’s social and cognitive stimulation. Few parents or babysitters can match the variety of activities, play material, and social interaction that such preschools or day care provide.

Moreover, a good preschool teacher understands young children in a way few parents can and can be a fine role model. You can learn more about how to choose the best preschool for your child here.

Preschool, however, is not a time for heavy academic instruction. Many parents may think they are giving their child a head start by enrolling them in academically focused preschools, there is no evidence that children benefit in the long run from early formal instruction in school subjects. In fact, research found that academic preschoolers tended to have greater anxiety about testing and to view school less positively than those from the less academic preschools.

The Perfect Parent

Parenting is hard work. Most of us try our best, given the limits on our time, resources, and stamina. The overall key as a parent to raise smart kids is to focus on the process rather than the intelligence and talent that a child possesses. It’s all about the journey and sense of achievement. Do you have any other ways to raise smart kids? Share them below in the comment section if you do!

brain development in children

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