From listening to music to keeping your child happy, the experts share how to make your kids smarter.
WORDS ANGEL DREWGUS
As parents, we all want the same thing for our children. We want them to soar through life, surpass all our accomplishments, and suffer none of our setbacks, while we watch with loving admiration. Nurturing children’s potential, in the broadest sense, means cultivating their humanity in the best way possible. Making children smarter involves supporting their expanding abilities, allowing them to be creative, ensuring they eat right and making sure they understand that success comes with having empathy, being kind and so much more.
1. A Healthy Diet
The key to good brain health for children begins with an adequate intake of energy derived from a well-balanced source of diet, advises Dr Han Wee Meng, head and senior principal dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics Department, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. A healthy diet is important to provide all the necessary combinations of macro- and micronutrients required for brain growth and development, such as omega-3 fats, iron, and many antioxidants. These nutrients are essential for brain growth and function, as well as to protect the brain from free-radical damage. So be sure to add eggs, salmon, dairy, lean meat, nuts and seeds, whole grains, dark green vegetables and other colourful vegetables and fruits to your child’s diet.
2. Do Away with Junk Food
Having junk food can have a negative effect on brain health. Firstly, junk food is not only low in nutrients, explains Dr Han, it also contains unhealthy nutrients like saturated and trans fat and is high in refined sugars. Secondly, having junk food displaces the nutrients that a healthy diet would provide. The unhealthy nutrients in junk food can interfere with the neurotransmitters and brain signaling.
However, it is definitely a challenge to avoid junk food completely. So while having it regularly can be is a big no-no, you might want to allow your child the occasional indulgence.
3. Play Games
Stimulating development, be it in the area of motor training, communication and social skills can take place in a fun manner: play! Play is a child’s work and this is one of the best mediums to aid and facilitate a child’s development, says, Tanuja Nair, senior play specialist, Rehabilitation Department, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
Play can be incorporated into daily routines such as bath time, snack time, bedtime and the likes. For example, while getting a three-month-old baby ready for his bath, parents can engage in a simple game of peek-a-boo with baby using the towel while waiting for the bath to be filled up. Babies love this game as it hones their anticipatory skills.
For slightly older kids, playing interactive games can also provide them with a platform to work as an individual or in a group and to focus on the importance of self-mastery and social skills. Examples of such games are board games, card games and math and logic games.
Downtime is equally important to growing children. This refers to times where the child can engage in quiet and reflective activities such as listening to relaxing music, doing breathing exercises, going for walks and reading. Physical and time spaces must be conscientiously created so that children have time to slow down and refocus. Such moments are important as they give the body and mind time to rest. When the child is well rested, he will be ready to take on new challenges.
4. Build His Confidence
Talking and interaction are important for babies. Also, keep in mind that a baby’s development starts whilst he’s still in the mother’s tummy! They learn about communication, words and the ability to recognise their parents’ smells and voices at an early stage and this input is vital at infancy in order for parents and babies to form close bonds, advises Nair.
It is very important for parents to help their children develop a healthy self-esteem. This can be done by appreciating their efforts as well as achievements. So focus on the process as well as the goals and applaud both so that the child feels recognised for their effort regardless of the outcome. Telling and showing your children you love them is also important. Knowing that they have a secure loving environment where they are appreciated and loved will lead to confidence and greater self-esteem.
5. Get them to Learn and Explore
The first few years of a baby’s development are especially important. These are the so-called “sponge years”. This is the time when they absorb the most information and learn from the environment around them. Thus, it is essential to provide them with appropriate learning opportunities through experiential learning and structured games.
Everyday activities are an excellent source for experiential and incidental learning, explains Nair. For example, during snack time, mummies and daddies can say, “We are having a banana today. It’s a fruit. See it is yellow. It is soft. Mmmm, it tastes sweet.” Labelling and identifying colour and texture are ways to facilitate language skills.
6. Get Physical
Regular physical activity is a vital part of every child’s life. Children of all ages should be encouraged to be active daily and lead a healthy lifestyle. Regular participation in physical activity has many benefits, the most important of which is its ability to optimise growth and development, and help to improve a child’s health and overall quality of life, emphasises Micheal Lim, head and senior clinical exercise physiologist, Sports Medicine Programme, Family Medicine Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Exercise is also beneficial for brain function and cognition. Improvements in executive control processes such as enhanced working memory can help improve academic performance and is commonly reported in children who are more physically active.
Sports for young children (ages one to nine) can be defined as meaningful physical play that has minimal rules and a strong focus on the development of a wide range of motor, cognitive and social skills. Include a wide range of fun, play-based physical activities as part of their daily living, advises Lim. These activities should be unstructured, and consist mainly of free-play with minimal rules. It should emphasise on the development of proper fundamental movement skills, encouraging the child to experiment with different bodily movements and interact with their physical environment.
Activities should encourage exploration of their body functions and stimulate learning in different environments and can include:
• Playing in the park or playground exploring the different apparatus such as monkey bars, swings, and beam balance.
• Games that include fundamental movement skills such as tag-running, hopscotch-jumping and hopping, horse chase-galloping, and ball games like catching and throwing. It is also an appropriate period to introduce the child to activities like cycling, swimming, and gymnastics.
7. Turn on the Music
Teaching children music in any form is very beneficial as long as you give cognizance to the learning process and not just the outcome. Learning music not only develops the musical side of a child’s brain but also provides tremendous benefits such as learning perseverance, concentration, memory, social skills, discipline, confidence and many other skills, explains Anita Shankar, psychologist and parenting coach, Perceptive Parenting Pte Ltd. Music is also a great source of stress release that can help children to unwind and de-stress.
8. Read It Right
Teaching your child to read is like opening the door to a world of benefits. Reading not only aids in developing a young child’s brain but it also enhances learning, explains Shankar. It improves concentration and encourages maturity and independence. It hones the creativity and imagination of a child and helps them to think out of the box. Reading early also promotes confidence and successful social interactions for the child.
9. Nurture Your Child’s Mind
Go for a silent stroll with your little one. Explain that for a few minutes, you will both listen to only the sounds that surround you. Even if they don’t really understand the objective of what you are doing, they will feel your body language as you become still and listen. Even a city street can teach you to listen with attention.
Babies and young children learn best by watching the people around them; they are keen observers and are ever ready to imitate. Similarly, when getting ready for an outing, talk through the process of getting ready while getting baby dressed, says Nair. Encourage baby to move about as you say, “We need to raise our right arm up please and in goes your t-shirt. Now let’s raise our left arm up please, and in goes your t-shirt again. Wow! Thank you for helping to get ready!” Not only are social skills being developed (eye contact, saying “please” and “thank you”) but body awareness is highlighted through the movement and labeling of body parts and actions. Throughout our lives, but especially during the early years of life, much of what we know and learn comes from our experiences.
10. Be Polite, Respectful and Kind
Teaching children the importance of being polite, respectful and kind along with compassion and empathy is imperative. These values relate to emotional intelligence. Children need to develop their emotional intelligence. This will enable them to use their logical thinking with their feelings to make the best decisions for themselves. This will help them to have successful relationships in their lives. According to Shankar, current research in psychology has shown that children with high EQs (emotional quotients) tend to be more successful in life.
As parents, we are our children’s first mirrors. Our comments and reactions shape how they see themselves. What matters most is not only what our children can do but also how they touch the lives of others around them. By loving them for more than their abilities, we show our children that they are much more than the sum of their accomplishments.