I was at the magazine rack at my local health club, about to grab something from among the tattered copies of Self, Men’s Health, Bazaar, and Modern Bride, when I discovered, peeping from behind its fellows, a pristine and virtually unread copy of Perspectives on Psychological Science, subtitled “A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science.”
Since I’m always reading while pedaling the elliptical, the article “How to Make A Young Child Smarter” looked intriguing. Although I personally have neither the energy nor the finances for more offspring, intelligent or otherwise, I suspect some of you are eventually planning families or, if not, consider yourselves concerned aunts and uncles. Therefore, you might find this information useful and, with luck, not a cause for regret (“Ah, if I’d only fed Billy more fish…”).
I want to remind you that the admonition to be careful what you wish for has endured through the ages. The Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was undoubtedly a brilliant child, as was Enron’s Jeff Skilling, now a fulltime license plate maker.
The article gets right to the point. “A good deal of research confirms what most people consider self-evident: Intelligence matters for academic and life success.” Whether or not you believe this (personally, I’m skeptical), over the years academic psychologists have undertaken virtually hundreds of research studies to determine if there are any steps parents can take to increase their child’s intelligence.
Virtually every one of these studies has been recorded in a massive “Database of Raising Intelligence,” and the stalwart authors of this particular article examined them all. There are definite criteria a study must meet in order to enter this hallowed database:
- Participants must be drawn from the general population.
- The study must be of randomized controlled design, meaning one group of children will, for example, take a specific supplement, while the control group will not.
- The study must be sustained over a certain period of time.
- There must be an agreed-on measure of intelligence in order to track results (the standard IQ test is considered best for this).
Four steps to boost your child’s IQ
To cut to the chase, no matter how many ways you think you can raise your kid’s intelligence (like playing Bach to your uterus or slipping a fur-covered smartphone into the crib), just four interventions were proven to increase a child’s IQ.
First, supplementation with long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid). You know the former as an omega 3, which we need to get more of from fish, krill, and other sources. There’s less concern about ARA because our diets are replete with omega 6s. Pregnant women should supplement with DHA so it passes through breast milk to the child. If the baby is formula-fed, ensure the formula is supplemented with DHA. This is especially important since low DHA is now linked to attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, and a variety of learning disabilities. Toddlers on fish oil supplements gained 6.5 IQ points over their non-supplemented peers. For pregnant moms, we recommend PurEFA and for toddlers Eskimo-3 Liquid. This website talks about dietary ways to provide adequate amounts of DHA and ARA.
Second, parents should plan what investigators termed “early educational interventions.” This was more than dropping your kid off at a day care center or even enrolling in pre-school. You need to make sure the pre-school has an organized, age-appropriate educational component. Interestingly, the investigators were unable to determine what part of this intervention increased IQ (improved social skills vs. improved self-regulation), but they felt that the “environmental complexity” of early education was responsible for the impressive 7-point IQ gain these children enjoyed.
Third, teaching parents to ask children three years and older open-ended questions that require the child to answer in multiple sentences. Investigators called this “narrative talk and elaborate reminiscing,” recommending you select topics of interest to your child while avoiding questions requiring only brain-deadening yes/no answers. This intervention produced a dramatic 6-point boost in IQ. Parents endlessly preoccupied with their smartphones while their child sits vacantly staring into space will want to pay special attention here.
And finally, interactive reading with a child was good for another 6 IQ points. A home with no books was clearly the worst case, but a home filled with books without the active participation of a parent was really no better. Ideally, a combination of books, read aloud, while teaching children to read themselves, asking the child open-ended questions, and choosing books that followed a child’s own interests was best.
And by the way, since the investigators were able to track tens of thousands of kids over so many years, they were also able to say with confidence that these interventions led to measurable improvements in SAT scores.
When, years from now, you’re sticking your own “Proud Mom” bumper sticker on the back of your bicycle, just remember you read it here first.
David Edelberg, MD