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How to raise a smarter child

What to feed, teach, and do with your kids to make them smarter, healthier and better adjusted.
/ Source: Forbes

The responsibilities that come along with parenthood are endless.

There's feeding, washing and reading the same book about bunnies over and over to a child. Plus, making enough money to provide food, shelter and coveted designer jeans; changing diapers (or finding someone else who will); and surviving 100 years of back-talk.

We make those investments in hopes of a big return: A well-adjusted and loving child. Or, even better, a well-adjusted and loving child who also happens to be a genius.

Lucky for the ambitious among us (and not so lucky, for the overwhelmed among us), experts believe that parents can help make genius happen — even if they aren't rocket scientists themselves.

Though it was once thought that intelligence was completely determined by genetics, it turns out that isn't true. The environment a child is raised in and whom a child is raised by play huge roles in determining how smart and socially adept he or she will be.

According to Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist in Naples, Fla., and author of Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten, from birth until age 3, a child has the opportunity to acquire up to 30 I.Q. points.

He says it's up to the parents to ensure their child actually gets those points by following simple advice, such as breastfeeding for at least a year, limiting early television exposure and investing in musical training for young kids.

"Babies are born with 100 billion neurons," he says. "During the first years of life, some are salvaged and the others are left to wither. We call that synaptic pruning."

While these tips make sense, not all doctors advocate them, because they can be unrealistic and make parenting even more complicated. And, of course, there is no way to guarantee that children grow up to be brilliant, charismatic and attractive — nor that those traits will bring them happiness.

Dr. Jonathan Gitlin, Roberson professor of pediatrics and genetics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, says parents should turn their focus away from cultivating particular characteristics in their children.

"We need to get away from this notion that if we do x, y, z, our child will be superior," he says, "There are two things that are highly underrated in parenthood — nutrients and love."

Moments of quiet
For competitive parents, it's a happy coincidence that proper nutrition not only helps kids be healthier, but feeds their brains. What should not be overlooked is the nutrition that comes in-utero. After that, Gitlin agrees that breastfeeding is important to administer essential nutrients to a baby, though the same nutrients can be obtained through commercial formulas.

"I advocate breastfeeding because it's wonderful and a great bonding situation for a mother and her child, but there is no scientific data that claims a baby will be smarter if he is breastfed," he says.

Many experts also suggest that while I.Q. levels are important, emotional intelligence, or how a person reacts in social settings, is critical as well.

"We all know those people with high I.Q.s who work in a back room of a business because they don't have the social skills to pull off a team effort," says Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor and psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia. "You can't just push the academics and think the emotional skills will just happen."

Her book, "Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn," which she co-wrote with child psychologist Roberta Golinkoff, a professor at the University of Delaware, highlights that normal, everyday play and activities, such as building a fort or going to the supermarket, are conducive to learning because they are social and meaningful.

Hirsh-Pasek also stresses that as much as children need to interact, they also need personal downtime.

"It is in the moments of quiet that children learn to fill their own spaces and discover the extraordinary," she says, "If we run all our children's activities all the time, then we run another risk, and that's that we never let our children fill their own space. Later on, we call that leadership."