One Simple Thing Moms Can do to Make their Child Smarter
As a PhD student, I get to run studies designed to examine social development in young children. Because of this, I regularly come in touch with a lot of parents and children- it is by far my favorite part of the job!
One of the things that parents always ask me when they come to the Infant and Child Lab is how their child performed in the study. In mom terms, this basically means, “is my child doing alright?” or better yet, “are they smarter than everyone else?”
While intelligence can be described in a lot of different ways (book smart, street smart, smart in the social realm, creatively smart, etc.), I think we can all agree that if you are able to learn and remember things faster, then chances are, you are probably smarter than average. Therefore, that is the type of ‘smart’ I will be referring to today. In addition, the research I will talk about targets young infants and preschoolers (6 months to 4 years of age). If your children are older than this, stay tuned- we have another article coming soon about talking to kids in any age-range and all of the benefits associated with it. : )
With that being said, let’s jump to the question motivating today’s article….
What can you do to make your child smarter?
Besides genetics, one of the factors that predicts better academic performance is language. Why? Because it grants children the foundation to learn other things (reading, writing, abstract concepts), and allows them to better communicate with others.
In fact, language is often the key player in determining cognitive function down the road. For example, one longitudinal study showed that children who were able to recognize more vocabulary words at age 2 were also more likely to have a higher IQ and better working memory (a trait of people who learn more easily) at age 8. A lot of other studies have found similar patterns, where the better vocabulary a child has at a young age, the better they will be in the academic realm.
The good news is that, unlike researchers previously thought, language development does not solely rely on inheriting good genes or the child’s natural ability. Instead, a lot of evidence has shown that moms have a HUGE role in their children’s language development. For example, even after studies take into consideration the mother’s intelligence, the amount of talking they do in general, their level of education, and their socioeconomic status, the mother’s amount of child-directed speech (i.e., how much moms talk directly to their child) is still the best predictor for language development, above and beyond all of the other factors!
So what does this mean in terms of parenting?
Ask yourself, how much do YOU talk to your child (quantity)? And how do you talk to them (quality)? Do you use a lot of adjectives, words, and varying sentence structure when you talk to your child? Based on the research we described above, the more you talk to your child, and the more variety you employ when talking to them, the better the child’s vocabulary will be, which contributes to better academic performance overall. In fact, studies have found that children whose parents use number words (e.g., one, two. etc) or spatial words (e.g., short, curvy, edge, tall ) when they talk to them, perform better in tasks that require numerical and spatial abilities. How cool that simply talking to your children can help them in all of these areas?!
So… what next? If you are the mom of a child that is three years or younger, below are some quick tips that can help you incorporate more talking with your child. More will come later on: )
Tips if you are a mom of a 3 year-old or younger:
1) Even if you have a young infant, get in the habit of talking to them. You can describe what you see, tell them how you feel, or even ask them questions. You might feel a bit silly at the beginning (since they can’t talk back yet), but it will get you into the habit of talking to your child. Once it becomes a habit, you will not even have to think twice about talking to your child when it really matters!
2) If your child is beginning to use gestures to communicate, such as pointing, supply your child with the language when they do so. In other words, if your child points to a fruit because he/she wants it, you can say, “You want the red apple?” before you hand it to them. Use as many adjectives as possible!
3) Don’t be afraid to use “big words” with your children. Kids are extremely smart, and they will learn whatever you teach them! Sure, they might have a more difficult time pronouncing the word at first, but they will eventually learn and use vocabulary they are exposed to.
To sum things up….
1) Language development is a key player in intelligence
2) Children whose mom talks to them more tend to have better vocabulary
3) The wider vocabulary a child has from a young age, the smarter they tend to be (in an academic setting)
4) If you talk to your kids more from a young age, chances are, they will be smarter.
For more tips and tools about language development, make sure to check out http://thirtymillionwords.org/
Disclaimer: While we mostly report robust scientific findings that have been replicated, science is a constantly evolving field, meaning new findings might support or contradict previous findings. Some scientist might also interpret data differently than others. We thus encourage parents to be critical of all information before they choose to apply it or dismiss it.
Goldin-Meadow, S., Levine, S. C., Hedges, L. V., Huttenlocher, J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Small, S. L. (2014). New evidence about language and cognitive development based on a longitudinal study: Hypotheses for intervention. American Psychologist, 69(6), 588.
Rowe, M. L. (2008). Child-directed speech: relation to socioeconomic status, knowledge of child development and child vocabulary skill. Journal of child language, 35(1), 185-205.
Huttenlocher, J., Haight, W., Bryk, A., Seltzer, M., & Lyons, T. (1991). Early vocabulary growth: Relation to language input and gender. Developmental psychology, 27(2), 236.
Hoff, E. (2003). The specificity of environmental influence: Socioeconomic status affects early vocabulary development via maternal speech. Child development, 74(5), 1368-1378.
Marchman, V. A., & Fernald, A. (2008). Speed of word recognition and vocabulary knowledge in infancy predict cognitive and language outcomes in later childhood. Developmental science, 11(3).
Levine SC, Suriyakham LW, Rowe ML, Huttenlocher S, Gunderson EA.(2010). What counts in the development of young children's number knowledge? Developmental Psychology. 46:1309– 1319.10.1037/a0019671
Pruden SM, Levine SC, Huttenlocher J. (2011). Children's spatial thinking: Does talk about the spatial world matter? Developmental Science.