As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to be accomplished and successful, and—perhaps most of all—we want them to be smart. Really smart. In fact, of the estimated $241,080 that it took to raise a child in 2012, education (coupled with child care) represented 18 percent of the pie, and that doesn’t even include college! That comes to more than $43,000, all in the name of cultivating genius.
But for parents who want develop their own little Einstein at a fraction of the cost, we have some good news: There are some surprising things that you can do to boost your child’s IQ that won’t impact your wallet at all. Read on for the top five.
1. Raise your expectations.
You probably know that it’s not a good idea to insult your child by calling him stupid, dumb or lazy. But while you may have been simply trying to protect fragile feelings, it appears as though your words could have an even more long-lasting effect. “Essentially, we get what we expect, if our expectation is the strongest one, so expecting your child to do well and to have an easy time at learning actually helps them learn,” explains Jeanine Joy, a certified happiness coach. “If your child has not been doing well, work hard to develop an expectation in your own mind that she will do better in the future. When your expectation is strong, your actions will consistently communicate this to your child—even if you do not say it in so many words.”
Sound like some crazy, mystical teachings ripped from the pages of The Secret? Maybe, but it works. Consider renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, adds Joy. “As a child [growing up in inner-city Detroit], he was convinced he was dumb until his mother stepped in and began insisting he could succeed.”
2. Let your child fail.
So now that you genuinely believe your child is capable of becoming the next Bobby Fischer, it’s important to resist the urge to step in every time he seems to stumble on his genius course. “Recent research shows that learning is enhanced when children make mistakes,” explains Melanie Fowler, a certified educational diagnostician with a master’s degree in special education. “Whether it involves homework, developing friendships or playing soccer, learning is enriched through error. Making mistakes is part of how kids are challenged to learn to do things differently; it motivates them to try new approaches.”
Certainly, kids can get discouraged if they’re having a hard time with a task or activity and not seeming to make any progress. But this, too, can become a teachable moment. “Let your child see you attempting new things and persisting even when the task becomes difficult or frustrating, and share the thinking process with him,” says Fowler. “If your child is challenged by an activity and becomes extremely frustrated and distressed, he may not be able to figure it out on his own. You can suggest he take a break and try again at a later time, then, when he is ready to start again, sit down with him and give some pointers or guidance to get him moving toward a solution.”
3. Go global.
In our global society and increasingly diverse nation, learning a second language is practically mandatory for people who want to stay on par with international counterparts, many of whom are bilingual. But teaching your child a second language is about more than being able to effectively communicate with future classmates or colleagues. It can actually make him smarter. “Research indicates that, relative to monolingual children, bilingual children have increased cognitive skills, better cognitive flexibility, better perceptual skills, better classification skills and an earlier understanding of symbolism (i.e. that words are symbols for objects, concepts, feelings, etc.),” says Dr. Teresa Signorelli, Ph.D., director of the Smadbeck Communication and Learning Center at Marymount Manhattan College.
Signorelli notes that any time is a great time to learn a second language, but sooner is better. “Research shows that there are sensitive periods for developing cognitive skills—that is, gross age ranges when skills need to or should start developing,” she explains. “Many researchers find that starting a second language before puberty is best.”
4. Move and do.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “I see and I forget. I hear and I remember. I do and I understand.” And as it turns out, his words are as true today as they were when he first spoke them almost 2,500 years ago. “Moving while you learn new concepts adds a multi-sensory aspect to the process that helps a child understand and retain the information,” explains Signorelli.” The more applied a learning activity can be, the more practical and relevant you can make an activity for the learner, the better they will learn.”
Signorelli offers tips like helping a child make a fruit salad as you teach him about different types of fruit, or playing Simon Says and having everyone jump in the pool on Simon’s command to teach the concept of ‘in and out.’ “Learning occurs in active not passive environments,” she adds. “When learning occurs in a dynamic way children can make multi-sensory associations with the new concepts—they hear it; they feel it; they smell it; they use it. This lets them encode the information more richly for them to retrieve at later times.”
5. Praise effort, not ability.
Each child is born with special gifts. Some are naturally musically inclined while others may be more athletic. And having a natural talent in a certain area is a benefit, in that new concepts are easily learned and tasks are completed quickly. The problem, though, is that this sense of ease can handicap children who don’t want to challenge themselves in other areas.
“One method I use to boost my student’s intelligence is to always refer to new academic knowledge as coming solely from their efforts,” says Moshe Siegel, a professional SAT tutor. “Because everything is connected to the student’s effort, the student takes pride in her work and resolves to continue putting in work. The opposite approach is to praise the student’s natural abilities by calling the student smart, gifted or saying that she has a good memory. These kinds of compliments make a student feel that her hard work isn’t being appreciated and make her efforts seem useless.”
Siegel encourages his students through statements like, “Wow, look at your score increase! You really must have put a lot of effort into it,” or, when a student understands a new math concept, “It looks like you really thought this through. That must be why you understand it so well.” These praises underscore his students’ personal role in their intellectual development and inspire them to continue challenging themselves.