Want to create a smarter, more knowledgeable child? Conscientiousness is far more reaching than IQ.
It seems that every year, the students that pass through my classroom know and understand less about the world and how it works. What is more bothersome is that many of them are content to accept things at face value rather than seek out explanations.
Every generation of parents wants to see their children grow up healthy and be successful. Yet U.S. kids are lagging behind in their knowledge of the world in their ability to reason. So what are they doing in the Eastern hemisphere and over in Finland?
After reviewing the literature, I found that there is nothing magical. There were no flashcards, baby videos or hours of rote homework assignments. Only effort, insight and sensibility on the part of the parent. Let’s take a look at what your child needs in order for them to become passionate and knowledgeable.
If you research music and intelligence, you will find that children involved in music showed greater increases in IQ and advancement in the classroom. In addition to an increase in knowledge pertaining to composers, European history and instruments, kids who played an instrument were more developed in math and vocabulary. And by the way, students who can play an instrument, like many athletes, have greater self esteems.
Being physically fit improves the ability to learn. This in part, is due to increased blood flow to the brain. Most sports are social on some level, promote teamwork and implore the value of struggle and goal setting.
An article in both the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and the American College of Sports Medicine reported that following exercise, students were more apt to focus on their work and stay concentrated longer when they returned to the classroom. Exercise not only increases blood flow to the brain, which promotes better processing, it also reduces stress and improves mood — which makes children more likely to behave in the classroom.
With small children, don’t just make books available and expect them to take the initiative. Read WITH your child. Point out the words and look at the pictures together. Engage in imagination as the story unfolds. With older children, you need to support the importance of gaining knowledge through reading by reading yourself. By setting aside a prescribed amount of electronic free time, a book can open up new worlds. Vocabulary increases, attention span is fortified.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep remains the most vital component of cognitive development. It has been said that sleep deprivation, on the order of even one less hour of sleep a night can stunt the maturation process of a child’s brain. A slightly-sleepy sixth-grader will perform in class like a fourth-grader. In various studies, teens who routinely received A’s in school averaged 15 more minutes sleep compared to B students, who in turn averaged 15 more minutes than the C’s.
Embrace Self Discipline, Grit and Conscientiousness
The book, Nuture Shock: New Thinking About Children, emphasizes the power of praising children for their efforts, not for intelligence. Praising effort instills the value of persistence and gives a child a sense of something they can control. Emphasizing intelligence removes the child from that control seat and provides no good recipe for responding to a failure. Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability — along with confidence in that ability — is a recipe for success. But a recent Scientific American article, The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, suggests it is the process, not the ability, that is key to success but that an overemphasis on intellect leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy shortcomings.
Several character traits have been associated with students who are academically successful. Here are three of the top.
▪ Discipline through willpower. Students who developed high levels of willpower and drive were more likely to earn higher grades and become academic achievers.
▪ Grit. One of the highest predictors of success is grit. Grit is a non-physical and non-cognitive trait, defined as perseverance and passion for long term goals.
▪ Conscientiousness. This state of having a desire to do a task well drives students to focus on homework and be absent from school less often. Conscientiousness has more of an impact on academic performance than does intellectual talent (IQ). In his book How Children Succeed, Paul Tough says that conscientious people not only get better grades, they commit fewer crimes and they stay married longer. They even live longer.
Real Life Learning
For every hour/day a child spends watching certain baby DVDs, they lose an average of six to eight words compared to infants who did not watch them. Real learning doesn’t happen by sitting there — you have to get dirty. Learning is an active process. In his book Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina shares how the brain really works why baby videos actually make kids dumber. Dan Coyle, author of the Talent Code, states that the human brain evolved to learn by doing things, not by hearing about them. He says this is one of the reasons that it’s much better to spend more time testing yourself on a skill than purely trying to absorb it. The three elements that Coyle feels are key to optimizing performance in anything are deep practice, passion and effective teachers.
Eat a Balanced Diet
It is well known that a daily, balanced diet makes a difference in children’s grades. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. On the day of a big test, high-carb, high-fiber, slow-digesting meals like oatmeal are best. I don’t know very many children who are willing to eat a perfectly balanced diet, but sadly the worst foods get eaten at the most critical time.
Contrary to what many believe, material things do not create happiness. Having and buying things can be compared to eating a donut. You eat it, enjoy the sugar rush, and then take another one. And it never ends.
So what’s the first step in creating happier kids? Being a happy parent. Happiness can simply be defined as the thought of as having a good life and being free from suffering. Being happy and having a happy life are different. One way to become happier is to cultivate positive emotions such as gratitude, awe, interest, serenity, pride and love.
Happy people tend to be more successful than unhappy people at both work and love. They get better performance reviews, have more prestigious jobs, and earn higher salaries. They are more likely to get married, and stay married.
Being a happy parent doesn’t mean being you will be your child’s best friend all the time. Children of parents who set and consistently enforced rules felt more loved and happier than children whose parents who didn’t.
Find Remarkable Peer Groups
Experts agree that upon entering into adolescence, a child’s peer group becomes a powerful influence on academic performance. The positive and negative influences of peer groups include the following
▪ Stronger students have an impact on their peers and actually help improve the overall academic performance of the peer group.
▪ In some peer groups, being smart is looked down upon. Similarly, these groups tend to share low aspirations of going to college or getting certain careers.
▪ Influence changes with time. Peer groups are highly influential during early adolescence. In fact, 14-year-olds are more than twice as likely to engage in risky, self-destructive behavior than 18-year-olds.
Know that You Believe in Them
Parental contribution to a child’s education has a consistent and positive effect on their academic achievement and self-concept. Toddlers who receive praise of their efforts are more likely to prefer challenging tasks and value hard work. When a child is secure in knowing that their parent will love them throughout their mistakes as well as their accomplishments, they will have the courage and self esteem needed to conquer the world.
Intelligence isn’t everything.
Without passion, ethics and empathy, really smart people can be scary.
Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.