Who doesn’t want a smart child? What parent doesn’t get a proud thrill as their child entertains guests with a recitation of Shakespeare or a Mozart piece on the piano; or even just their memorization of the alphabet? Every parent wants their child to learn and excel, but they also want their child to enjoy learning. The problem is, many of the most well-meaning parents get it wrong from the beginning. You want your child to be smart? The key to raising a smart child cannot be found in any book, on any DVD, or in a single thing on iTunes. The key to raising a smart child who loves to learn is you.
Talk, Read, and Talk Some More!
Every parent has been there; you’re driving down the road thinking about all the things you need to do that day and your child is jabbering excitedly from the back seat. He begins asking question after question, and your answers only lead to more questions. You “shush!” him in frustration and return to your thoughts. You’ve now just closed the door on a wonderful learning opportunity for your child.
When your child begins talking and asking questions, you do the same. If they ask you why the sky is blue, instead of responding with, “Because that’s the way it is,” ask him why he thinks the sky is blue. You will be amazed at the creative responses he comes up with, and then you can begin asking him questions.
Also take the time to read books and pay attention to what your child really seems interested in. You cannot force a child to be interested in something simply because it interests you. Pay attention and encourage him. Trade family game night for a trip to the library, use books as rewards, and encourage your child to spend free time reading. Perhaps ask him if he’ll read you that book he’s been talking about; you will see how much he has learned and his confidence will be boosted as he feels he’s teaching you something.
When you talk with and listen to your child, you really get to know them. Once you know where their interests lie, try taking an interest yourself. Read up on dinosaurs or magicians or fish, or whatever your child happens to be excited about at the moment. Yes, it’s more than likely that their interests will continually change, but that’s a good thing; they are exploring multiple things and absorbing a great deal at a very young age.
Praise and Encourage
Beyond anything else, a child’s main source of happiness is making their parents proud. Praise them when they learn something new, reward them for their accomplishments, and encourage them in every way possible. When company comes over, rather than shushing your child for talking nonstop about dinosaurs, proudly talk about how you simply can’t believe how much he knows about dinosaurs! Encourage him by saying, “…Tell them about the Tyrannosaurus skeleton they found in…” Once your child has had the opportunity to share, tell him that everyone else now needs a turn to talk so that he feels respected but understands that he can’t always be the one talking.
There are so many ways that you can encourage your blossoming genius. If he has taken a sudden liking in outer space, take him on a surprise trip to the planetarium. Ask him questions, and take advantage of any opportunities to teach. Ask questions, tell him interesting facts, and try choosing places that have “hands-on” areas for children; they learn best by doing.
Most importantly never simply shut your child down or degrade him in any way when he begins to tell you something. If he is wrong about something major, find a way to teach him the proper information without making him feel inadequate. If what he has saying is something that he has just come up with in his imagination, there is no reason to take that away; childhood ends too quickly anyways.
There Is More Than One Way to Be “Smart”
Parents, while unintentional, tend to judge their child against other children. If your neighbor has a child the same age as yours who knows her alphabet and yours doesn’t, you begin to wonder if something is wrong. Remember that “smart” is defined in a number of ways. Many of the most successful people in the world were not what anyone would define as “smart;” they were their own kind of smart.
Take a look at your child, and consider all of the following ways that he or she could be smart:
• Children who are smart with words enjoy reading and are wonderful storytellers. You may overlook your child’s wild stories as nothing more than an overactive imagination. Pay attention though; if she has really thought these stories through, she probably has a real talent for words. Consider encouraging her to write down some of her stories.
• Children who may appear to have a difficult time with words may be incredibly talented with pictures. You know all those times when you’ve gotten frustrated with your child for taking apart his brand new toy? You may just have a mechanical genius on your hands. Children who do this are extremely curious and just want to know how things work. Really pay attention if your child doesn’t seem to like reading; he may just be more interested in the illustrations.
• Those children who struggle with reading often excel at math. Children who enjoy numbers, shapes, sorting, and other things of this sort are extremely smart despite the fact that they may have issues with reading. Encourage him with experiment kits or even cooking recipes. He will enjoy the counting and sorting; but have him read the instructions to further encourage his word skills.
• Don’t discount your child if all he seems to want to do is listen to music or play instruments. It has often been said that those who are musically talented were born with the gift; natural talent is not something you can learn. Rather than shouting at him to stop the noise, try singing along, signing him up for music lessons, or encouraging him to write his own song. Also introduce him to a wide variety of music types and even help him learn some music history.
Every child is a genius in their own way; they just need you to encourage them to act on it. Praise, celebrate, talk and listen as your child tells you what he has learned. Also remember to focus on the things your child can do, rather than the things he may not be so good at. Nobody can be great at everything; each child is born with a unique set of gifts, and as a parent it is your job to help them unwrap and make the most of each.