Read aloud to your children.
Children whose parents read to them have more advanced language development. Although mothers most often read to children, there are positive benefits of fathers reading to their children as well. Language development is not the only benefit of reading! Reading together strengthens the parent-child relationship. Children can also develop social skills and empathy through shared reading. Talk to your children about the stories, let them guess about the plot, and ask them questions about the characters. Try to read with your child every day. For older children, ask them what they’re reading on their own and ask them to share passages with you that they think are interesting.
Praise your child’s effort, not their talent.
Researchers have identified different “mindsets” that people have about success. Someone with a fixed mindset believes that intelligence, performance, and success are qualities that people are born with. People with a fixed mindset are less likely to take on a challenge, because they fear that if they fail, it will be proof that they are “dumb” or “untalented.” Someone with a growth mindset believes that intelligence, performance, and success can be improved and achieved through effort. These people are more likely to take on a challenge and view any setbacks as learning experiences. In turn, they learn more and gain more skills over time. To encourage a growth mindset in your children, praise their effort (“I can tell you worked hard!”) rather than their intelligence or talent (“You must be really smart.” or “You are very talented!”).
Eat as a family.
Even if mealtimes are short—15 to 20 minutes—research shows there may be numerous benefits for children. Children who regularly eat dinner with the family are less likely to be obese, less likely to use drugs, more likely to be healthy, and more likely to do well in school. Avoid distractions during dinner, such as cell phones, TV, or video games. Use this as a time to talk to one another. Ask your children questions that require more than one-word answers. For example, rather than asking, “How was your day?” ask “What did you do in math class?” or “When did you feel happiest today?” If you work a late-shift and cannot be home for dinner, try to set aside time in the morning to eat breakfast with your child. Finding time to eat lunch with your child at school can also be helpful if you cannot regularly be home for dinner. Ask whoever has dinner with your child to follow these tips and turn off the TV.
Praise your child.
Most children respond more quickly to praise than to punishment. Disciplining your child means to teach them proper behavior and help them to develop self-discipline. Praising your child helps long-term self-discipline and may decrease the need for punishment. When your child is behaving as you want, make sure to take the time to point it out. Some children respond best to parental praise and gratitude. Others may respond best if you implement a reward system, where they earn “points” for good behavior that can be redeemed later. Many children respond well to some combination. Think about how you respond when someone you respect tells you that you’ve done a good job. Both adults and children tend to be motivated by praise from a respected person.
Encourage your children to participate in extracurricular activities.
There has been concern expressed regarding the negative effects of over-scheduling children’s activities. These negative effects are not supported by research, and children who participate in organized activities tend to do better than those who are not. Participating in organized activities like sports, after-school programs, and other activities is associated with better grades, greater likelihood of going to college, less drug and alcohol use, and better interactions with parents. (There may be negative effects if children spend 20 or more hours per week in organized activities. Most children spend about 5 hours per week in organized activities.)
Be mindful of the video games your child plays.
Although digital games are often either described as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for a child’s development, research shows that games affect children on multiple dimensions, both positively and negatively. It’s important to pay attention to factors like the amount of time that is spent on playing games, the game content (for example, violence can lead to aggression while pro-social content tends to lead to beneficial behaviors), and the game mechanics (depending on the type of joystick, for example, the gamer’s motor skills and balance skills can be improved). Not all videogames are bad. Exergames (videogames including exercise) promote exercise and social interaction and enhance cognitive performance, while other digital games can enhance a child’s learning experience. Try to keep these factors in mind when you purchase a videogame for your children and try to maintain a good balance between what your children enjoy and what enhances their development.
- Child Development Perspectives, Volume 5, Number 2, June 2011
- “The Multiple Dimensions of Video Game Effects” by Douglas A. Gentile
- “Exergames for Physical Education Courses: Physical, Social, and Cognitive Benefits” by Amanda E. Staiano & Sandra L. Calvert
Make sure your child gets enough sleep.
National surveys show that children sleep less than recommended by pediatric specialists, which is a concern because many studies have pointed out a clear relationship between sleep and academic performance as well as cognitive functioning. Children who sleep less, or have inconsistent bed times, or go to bed late and sleep in late tend to get lower grades in school and do worse in comprehensive intelligence tests.
Children between the ages of five to ten need 10 to 11 hours of sleep per day.
- Child Development Perspectives, Volume 5, Number 1, March 2011
- “Insufficient Sleep and the Socioeconomic Status Achievement Gap” by Joseph A. Buckhalt
- Center for Disease Control & Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/features/sleep/
Pets are good for the brain.
Psychologists have found that companion animals promote children’s wellbeing. It is well-known that they offer emotional support. But, did you know that they also promote cognitive development? For some children, companion animals serve as objects of interest. Animals encourage curiosity and motivate children to explore their environments. Simply put, greater exploration promotes cognitive growth and learning.
- Child Development Perspectives Vol 5 Num 3 Sept 2011
- “Directions in Human-Animal Interaction Research: Child Development, Health, and Therapeutic Interventions” by Esposito, McCune, Griffin, & Maholmes
Encourage your children to play with their peers.
Research has consistently shown that children who cooperatively play with their peers at school do better in class in taking initiative. They also tend to be more engaged in learning activities and are better at regulating their emotions. In addition, children who play with their peers at home were also found to express more autonomous and motivated behavior. Research even suggests that by playing with their peers children can support one another in acquiring literary or mathematical skills.
- Child Development Perspectives, Volume 6, September 2012
- Peer Play Interactions and Readiness to Learn: A Protective Influence for African American Preschool Children From Low-Income Households by Bulotsky-Shearer, R. J., Manz, P. H., Mendez, J. L., McWayne, C. M., Sekino, Y. and Fantuzzo, J. W.
Studies have shown that the more time children spend physically active, the better their brains perform. Children who spent more time being physically active received better grades in core school subjects as well as demonstrated better attentional control. Researchers also found that physical activity was negatively related to drug use. The more time children spent being physically active, the less likely they were to initiate or continue using illegal drugs.
- Hillman, C., & Drobes, D. (2012). Physical activity and cognitive control: Implications for drug abuse. Child Development Perspectives, 6(4), 367-373.
Help dual language learners by starting early.
Dual language learner (DLL) children have been found to score lower than their monolingual peers in reading and writing skills upon entering kindergarten. Fortunately, there are ways to help. Young children can learn two languages without experiencing confusion or delay. In fact, learning two languages actually facilitates their English learning. Research has shown that teaching children reading skills in their primary language is more effective for English language learning than total English immersion. By reading to DLL children in both their primary language and English if possible, parents and loved ones can support their DLL child’s academic success.
- Castro, D. C., Páez, M. M., & Dickinson, E. F. (2011). Promoting language and literacy in young dual language learners: Research, practice, and policy. Child Development Perspectives, 5(1), 15-21.
Activities that combine mindfulness with physical activity such as yoga and certain styles of martial arts have been demonstrated to improve self-control skills in young children. Children enrolled in tae-kwon-do saw greater improvements in mental math skills (requiring working memory) compared to children enrolled in other types of physical activities. They also experienced a greater decrease in aggression (requiring inhibitory control). Children four to five years old experienced the greatest benefits compared to other age groups, and children who struggled the most with self-control saw the most benefit compared to their more well-adjusted peers.
- Diamond, A., & Lee, K. (2011). Interventions Shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4 to 12 Years Old. Science, 333(6045), 959–964. doi:10.1126/science.1204529
Although children still need guidance and support from their families, kids are able to do a little more than we think. You can encourage your child to solve simple problems by themselves. If your child can perform a task without your help, let them. It is a chance for them to experience success on their own. Also, try assigning a chore. Putting your child in charge of a simple and regular task can build confidence and leave them (and you) with a sense of pride – a task as simple as feeding the family pet, or watering the plants so they may feel as if they are contributing to the family.
Today, the structure and supervision of kid’s activities seems to be overriding their free-play time. Allow your child to get bored and use his/her imagination to find a safe and fun activity. Just be sure there are items like coloring paper, crayons, cardboard boxes, building blocks, etc. at your child’s disposal.
Food for thought.
Eating healthy is not synonymous with “eating boring!” There are many yummy foods that children can eat to please their taste buds and their body. Some nutrients known to specifically affect cognitive development and brain function are Omega-3 fatty acids, iron, iodine, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin C. These nutrients may be found in peanut butter, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and orange juice. Sometimes it can be hard to get your child to eat healthy foods, but talking to your child about how the foods they eat can affect their brain and bodies may help them understand how what they eat affects their physical and mental abilities. Proper nutrition can improve their attention, memory, information processing, reasoning, and problem solving skills. Greater consumption of these nutrients has been correlated with higher IQ, school performance, immunity, and physical maturation for a strong mind and body.
- Bryan, J., Osendarp, S., Hughes, D., Calvaresi, E., Baghurst, K., & Van Klinken, J. (2004). Nutrients for Cognitive Development in School-aged Children. Nutrition Reviews, 62(8), 295-306. doi:10.1301/nr.2004.aug.295-306
- Wesnes, K. A. (2010). Evaluation of techniques to identify beneficial effects of nutrition and natural products on cognitive function. Nutrition Reviews, 68(1), S22-S28. Doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887. 2010.00328.x
Communication is key.
Talking and listening to your child is how he or she will expand his or her verbal skills and active listening skills. Many developmental psychologists have noted that parent’s that practice effective communication with their children helps them develop a secure parent-child relationship. During early childhood, peer relationships become more prevalent and children with good communication skills tend have more positive social experiences. Having good communications skills will also expand their learning abilities because they will develop the confidence to ask questions when they do not understand and they will be able to verbalize their feelings and thoughts.
- Turiel, E. (2010). Domain Specificity in Social Interactions, Social Thought, and Social Development. Child Development, 81(3), 720-726. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01429.x
- Sohr‐Preston, S. L., Scaramella, L. V., Martin, M. J., Neppl, T. K., Ontai, L., & Conger, R. (2013). Parental socioeconomic status, communication, and children’s vocabulary development: A third‐generation test of the family investment model. Child Development, 84(3), 1046-1062.
For even more empirical support for parenting tips and strategies, see http://infoaboutkids.org/.