All things being equal, most parents would love their kids to maximize their intellectual potential. Kindness, bravery, and social skills all matter in life, but a high IQ is a very handy thing to have. So how do you help your child be as smart as he or she can be?
First off, don't obsess over the subject. "Setting out to raise a genius is the last thing we'd advise any parent to do," Vanderbilt University educational psychologist and expert on raising gifted kids Camilla Benbow stresses. Focusing too much on intelligence, "can lead to all sorts of social and emotional problems."
Second, regard claims on the subject with skepticism. Most advice parents receive about how to raise smart kids, from marketing claims for Baby Einstein videos to suggestions to play your infant Mozart have been thoroughly debunked by science.
Does that mean the whole project of providing an IQ-boosting environment for your child is hopelessly flawed? No, says a recent Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger, laying out the science on what actually works to boost kids' IQ. Some of the interventions she covers are still being developed, but a few are easy for parents to implement now.
1. Sign your kid up for a musical instrument.
Faced with budget cuts, many schools opt to cut music programs. That's a shame because several studies (though not all of them) show that playing a musical instrument is a great way to help kids develop perseverance and other associated mental skills that support learning and ultimately boost intelligence.
"Music training may hone self-control, including focused attention and memorization," notes Shellenbarger.
2. Teach your child to play chess.
Again, the science on the cognitive benefits of chess isn't 100 percent settled, but given the classic game is fun and downside-free, the takeaway message from current research seems to be that this simple intervention is definitely worth a try.
3. Talk and read with your kids
This one perhaps is so obvious that it should go without saying, but parents sometimes neglect the basics in the search for newfangled approaches to raising smart kids. Dinner table discussions and talking with your kids about the world around them can go a long way towards maximizing whatever intellectual potential they were born with, experts agree.
"A stimulating home environment is pivotal, says Richard E. Nisbett, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Michigan. Engaging children in lively conversations with challenging vocabulary can help," reports Shellenbarger, who adds: "Another powerful factor is interactive reading with children under four, inviting them to participate and helping them elaborate on their ideas."