We’d all like to think that our kids are exceptional.
Is their adorable drawing a sign that they’re a future Picasso? Will they follow in the footsteps of Elon Musk because they can already count to 100?
Less than two per cent of the world’s population falls in "borderline genius or above" so, sadly, chances of your Elliot growing into an Einstein are slim.
But inherited intelligence isn’t the only factor behind a super smart kid. And, yes, you actually can nurture little Elliot’s intelligence and get his neurons fired up!
Typical intelligence – how your child would rate if given an IQ test – isn’t the only form of aptitude that could impact on their success.
Developing emotional intelligence, the ability to build positive relationships and self-manage emotions, and social intelligence, being able to read social situations, can also set your child up for life.
"It’s estimated that, at best, IQ (your intelligence quotient) makes up only 20 per cent of the factors that determine life success, while other forces, such as EQ (the so-called 'emotional quotient'). Wealth, temperament, family education levels and pure luck make up the balance," explains Jackie Petzer, a manager at EQExplore, a company that developed emotional intelligence in children.
"That means cognitive skills – verbal comprehension, memory, reasoning and processing speed – will help academically, but they will only get a person so far in life," says Petzer.
Five things that can help children get ahead
1. Read to them from birth
You don't need to wait until your baby masters his first words: research shows that reading to babies in early infancy gives them a kickstart when it comes to language, vocabulary and reading skills.
It not only fires up the part of the brain that’s behind speaking and reading, but it also stimulates the area linked to mental imagery, thus boosting imagination and the ability to 'see' the story in their head.
The early building blocks for reading will do more than give them tools to tackle novels later on.
By building vocabulary, they are likely to understand the nuances and emotions woven into the story, which will get them hooked on reading.
Try an interactive approach to reading with toddlers and young children who cannot read yet. They can look at illustrations, turn the pages by themselves and listen for changes in your voice.
You can also ask them questions as you go along, which tunes their listening and comprehension skills.
2. Give them music lessons
You may have heard that exposing your child to classical music in the womb and beyond is beneficial, but sadly there is no real evidence that turning up the Mozart will boost their brainpower.
However, encouraging them to learn a musical instrument has proven rewards.
Research conducted at the University of London showed that it develops and grows the parts of a child’s brain that gives them the ability to learn new words and their ability to process them.
Because it teaches them to separate sounds and tones it also helps with reading.
But there’s more… Learning to play an instrument encourages creativity, builds self-esteem, assists with mathematical solving skills and self-discipline – all skills that will stand your child in good stead.
Jenni Morrison of Junior Jive recommends starting by singing to your baby.
"In doing this you automatically use facial expressions and do actions,"she says.
"In this way, you are developing an emotional connection with him or her, you are teaching social skills, you are developing listening skills and language skills, you are encouraging your baby to move his or her body with you – and you are teaching singing!"
"I just love it when babies start moving their little bottoms and legs when they hear a familiar song – the connection is there, and they are expressing it through movement," she says.
Joining music and movement classes provide excellent opportunities to develop all the skills needed to play an instrument and also provides opportunities to explore different percussion instruments. This is then a natural way to introduce your child to a musical instrument, says Jenni.
"Once you see that your child has an understanding that the little squiggles on the page when you read them a story are words, which you read and tell the story from."
"Then they are ready to start being introduced to the symbols of music notation, reading music and transferring the squiggles to making music with an instrument," she says.
"Also, be aware that children develop their gross motor skills first before developing their fine motor skills. Take into consideration your child’s motor development when choosing an instrument to learn."
3. Help them to toughen up
Our kids are growing up in an increasingly stressful world. Key traits you want to help them to develop to cope with the challenges, says Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed, are perseverance, self-control and optimism.
These characteristics will help a child learn how to tackle a task and see it through from beginning to end. Easier said than done.
The anxiety, tantrums and drama our kids throw at us when faced with a challenge can pull at our heartstrings and trigger us to complete the task for them, comfort them through it or allow them to throw in the towel.
Instead, our valuable role as parents is to support them in their struggle, says Janet Lansbury, an educator who produces the podcast Unruffled.
She says children need to know that we trust them and we believe they can do it when faced with a struggle.
"We want them to learn that they can do it on their own, and they don’t need us to make it happen for them."
"The feelings that arise – anger, frustration – are normal and we want our kids to learn that it’s OK to feel that. We want them to know those feelings do pass and I do feel better and I recover," she says.
Whether it’s tackling homework or taking on a Lego project, Janet says don’t direct or fix.
"Instead: Be patient and fully attentive, providing only the most minimal direction needed for children to be able to accomplish self-chosen tasks themselves," she says.
4. Give their emotions a voice
Parents need to be part of the child’s journey in building their emotional intelligence.
However, the problem is that parents don’t know how to do this, and on a subconscious level are passing on their issues, low self-esteem, anxiety and challenges onto the child, says Julie McCarthy, a children’s life coach at MagicBlox.
Emotional intelligence begins to develop in the earliest years, continues Julie.
"All the small exchanges children have with their parents and teachers carry emotional messages. Parents and teachers need to adopt an 'emotion coaching' approach," she says
Here are the recommendations:
Children learn through modelling, so be more self-aware of how you handle big emotions in life because your children are watching and learning from you.
Increase their emotional vocabulary by labelling emotions as you experience them.
Encourage a larger range of emotions than just "happy" and "sad". Include emotions such as excited, jealous, frustrated, surprised, proud, and so on.
Do recognise negative emotions as an opportunity to connect with your child.
Don’t punish, dismiss or scold your child for being emotional; rather coach them through the experience.
Don’t convey judgement or frustration when your child is emotional.
5. Give them chores to do
We all want the best for our kids, but our obsession with their marks is getting in the way of their future success, says Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise An Adult.
"We should be less concerned with the universities they may get into and far more concerned about the habits, the mindset, the skillset and the wellness they have to be successful wherever they go," she says.
The recipe for building the right childhood foundation?
"Love and chores," says Julie.
Based on a Harvard research, Julie says it has been proven that the biggest predictor of achieving professional success as an adult comes from having done chores as a child – and the earlier you start it the better.
"It builds a pitch-in mindset and a mindset that I will contribute to the betterment of all," she explains.
This "can-do" attitude and ability to take initiative are what gets you ahead in the workplace.
Even toddlers can be taught to pack away their toys, help with making their bed, feed pets and other simple tasks – so start teaching them to "pitch in" as soon as they can.
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