Justin Lewis—Getty Images
By Eric Barker
March 4, 2014

I’ve explored the science behind what makes kids happier, what type of parenting works best and what makes for joyful families.

But what makes children — from babies up through the teen years — smarter?

Here are 10 things science says can help:

1) Music Lessons

Plain and simple: research show music lessons make kids smarter:

In fact musical training helps everyone, young and old:

(More on what the music you love says about you here.)

2) The Dumb Jock Is A Myth

Dumb jocks are dumb because they spend more time on the field than in the library. But what if you make sure your child devotes time to both?

Being in good shape increases your ability to learn. After exercise people pick up new vocabulary words 20% faster.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

A 3 month exercise regimen increased bloodflow to the part of the brain focused on memory and learning by 30%.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

(More on how exercise can make you and your kids smarter and happier here.)

3) Don’t Read To Your Kids, Read With Them

Got a little one who is learning to read? Don’t let them just stare at the pictures in a book while you do all the reading.
Call attention to the words. Read with them, not to them. Research shows it helps build their reading skills:

(More on things most parents do wrong here.)

4) Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid

Missing an hour of sleep turns a sixth grader’s brain into that of a fourth grader.

Via NurtureShock:

There is a correlation between grades and average amount of sleep.

Via NurtureShock:

(More on how to sleep better here.)

5) IQ Isn’t Worth Much Without Self-Discipline

Self-discipline beats IQ at predicting who will be successful in life.

From Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

Grades have more to do with conscientiousness than raw smarts.

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

Who does best in life? Kids with grit.

Via Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

(More on how to improve self-discipline here.)

6) Learning Is An Active Process

Baby Einstein and braintraining games don’t work.
In fact, there’s reason to believe they make kids dumber.

Via Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five:

Real learning isn’t passive, it’s active.

What does Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code recommend? Stop merely reading and test yourself:

(More on how to teach your child to be a hard worker in school here.)

7) Treats Can Be A Good Thing — At The Right Time

Overall, it would be better if kids ate healthy all the time. Research shows eating makes a difference in children’s grades:

There are always exceptions. No kid eats healthy all the time. But the irony is that kids often get “bad” foods at the wrong time.
Research shows caffeine and sugar can be brain boosters:

They’re also potent rewards kids love.

So if kids are going to occasionally eat candy and soda maybe it’s better to give it to them while they study then when they’re relaxing.

(More on the best way for kids to study here.)

8) Happy Kids = Successful Kids

Happier kids are more likely to turn into successful, accomplished adults.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

And what’s the first step in creating happier kids? Being a happy parent.

(More on how to raise happy kids here.)

9) Peer Group Matters

Your genetics and the genetics of your partner have a huge effect on your kids. But the way you raise your kids?
Not nearly as much.

Via Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference:

So what does have an enormous affect on your children’s behavior? Their peer group.

We usually only talk about peer pressure when it’s a negative but more often than not, it’s a positive.

Living in a nice neighborhood, going to solid schools and making sure your children hang out with good kids can make a huge difference.

What’s the easiest way for a college student to improve their GPA? Pick a smart roommate.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

(More on the how others affect your behavior without you realizing it here.)

10) Believe In Them

Believing your kid is smarter than average makes a difference.

When teachers were told certain kids were sharper, those kids did better — even though the kids were selected at random.

Via The Heart of Social Psychology: A Backstage View of a Passionate Science:

Sum Up

  1. Music Lessons
  2. The Dumb Jock Is A Myth
  3. Don’t Read To Your Kids, Read With Them
  4. Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid
  5. IQ Isn’t Worth Much Without Self-Discipline
  6. Learning Is An Active Process
  7. Treats Can Be a Good Thing — At The Right Time
  8. Happy Kids = Successful Kids
  9. Peer Group Matters
  10. Believe In Them

One final note: Intelligence isn’t everything. Without ethics and empathy really smart people can be scary.

As P.J. O’Rourke once said:

So if you want to learn how to raise a happier kid go here and a more well-behaved kid go here.

I hope this helps your child be brilliant.

Related posts:

Good Parenting Skills: 7 Research-Backed Ways to Raise Kids Right
How To Have A Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed By Research
How To Raise Happy Kids – 10 Steps Backed By Science

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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