You have probably come to this article find the magic mantra that will make your child very intelligent. Well you already have it. It is called common sense. Millions of years of evolution and the billions of mothers and fathers before you have learned from their experiences and passed them to you.
Before reading this article, we suggest you read about how your child's brain grows
Here are some critical areas that Indian parents should focus on to help develop their children's brains and thus let their intelligence, confidence and creativity flower.
- Give unconditional love, care and comfort to your child. Again, evolution has built into parents (and most if not all adults) a great love of infants and children. Let this work naturally. Grandparents can also be a huge help here. Respond to your child's feeling and emotions. If they need support or care, offer it quickly. By developing truly caring relationships, the child learns the importance of social interactions.
- The child must feel safe. Unnecessary stress on the child (abuse, repeated beatings, threats) has a highly detrimental effect on the child's perspectives on relationships1.
- Talk with your child constantly. Have a conversation with them even if they are only speaking babytalk. Respond to them. This cannot be stressed enough. Research has shown that children's language-related capabilities are directly related to how the people around them talk to them2. Regular, everyday conversation is all that is needed.
- Give children a wide variety of experiences. These can be as simple as rolling a ball, reading a book together, colouring a picture, looking at rain fall, listening to music, dancing with their parents, playing with blocks, taking a walk, travelling etc. It is important that physical and outdoor activities be part of this mix. Be prepared to repeat an experience many times. For example, my older child wanted me to sing the same nursery rhymes every night at bedtime.
- However, do not overstimulate the child. This applies particularly to television. It tends to monopolise a child's activities and can result in negative long term effects.
- Nutrition is also important. Breastfeeding is the best food for a baby. It contains fatty acids like DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and AHA or AA (arachidonic acid) which are believed to be good for the brain3. As the child moves beyond breastfeeding, give him a good healthy diet.
- In the first two years of a baby's life, a process called myelination takes place. Myelination helps increase the speed of communication between brain cells. Children are born with little myelin. This explains the sometimes slow reaction of little children. However, myelination happens at a fast pace in the first two years. Myelination is helped by the good fats in children's diets. In fact, in the first two years, it is good for a child to get half their calories from the good fats (yoghurt, cheese, ghee, whole milk but after 1 year etc.) in their diet (besides from breast milk).
- Since brain development takes place during pregnancy also, pregnant women should also follow common sense to promote this process. Good nutrition for the mother is very important. The mother should also stay away from alcohol and cigarette smoke. Infections are also a risk to the child's brain development in the womb.
- The market is flooded with parental aids (music, videos etc.,) that claim to make your baby smarter. Very little scientific evidence exists to show that these products can help.
As we have seen, a child's brain development, intelligence, confidence and creativity are greatly influenced by their early experiences. As parents, there is no need for us to get stressed about this. We should "just be parents". By using our inherent love, common sense, and everyday objects and activities to nurture our children, we will set them on the path for a happy and full life. It comes naturally!
1. Rima Shore, Rethinking the Brain: New Insights into Early Development, 1997 Family & Work Institute, New York, NY, USA
2. Sandra Blakeslee "Studies Show Talking With Infants Shapes Basis of Ability to Think", New York Times, April 17 1997
3. Meherban Singh, "Nutrition, Brain and Environment: How to have Smarter Babies?", Indian Pediatrics 2003; 40:213-220
"How Are the Children? Report on Early Childhood Development and Learning - September 1999", US Department of Education
"Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Early Brain Development - 2001", Child Welfare Information Gateway, US Department of Health and Human Services