5 Proven Ways To Make Your Child Smarter
We all want to give our children the best possible start in life and to see them reach their full potential... but did you know you can increase your child's intelligence, improve their brain function and help them do better in school with some simple changes?
These are our tips for helping and supporting their brains.
1. Keep The Sugar Down... Especially At Breakfast
Several studies (1),(2) show that after having a low glycemic index (low sugar) breakfast, kids (including teenagers) have better brain function than after a high sugar breakfast like cereal or toast. Even better, they report feeling happier and more confident (1).
This means if you want your child to learn more and perform better in school then feed them a breakfast that is higher in protein and fat and only complex carbs…
Examples of a healthy breakfast include:
- Peanut butter on wholemeal bread
- Scrambled eggs on wholemeal rye toast
- Full fat (unsweetened) yoghurt, berries & nuts
- Cheese & meat
- Chia seed breakfast pudding
- Porridge - made from real oats! (sweeten with berries, flavour with cinnamon or butter and no more than a teaspoon of honey)
- Home-made low carb granola, berries and milk or yoghurt
- Low carb chocolate banana muffins.
Studies for adults show similar results (3). Eating a sugary breakfast negatively affects your cognitive performance (brain function & concentration). Even better consider skipping breakfast altogether.
It is also shocking to look at how much sugar is in some common children’s breakfast cereals.
Most children eat at least a small bowl - 40g portion of cereal. The following common cereals all have 3 teaspoons of sugar in a portion and are more than 80% carbohydrate (which is broken down to sugar):
- Kelloggs’s Coco Pops
- Kellogg’s Frosties
- Kelloggs Crunchy Nut Cornflakes
- Morrisons Chocopillows
- Nestle Coco Shreddies
Other breakfast alternatives are no better, Kellogg’s Pop Tarts have a whopping 4 teaspoons of sugar per pop tart, Belvita breakfast biscuits have 3 teaspoons per portion and Go Ahead Goodness raw fruit bars, which you would assume are healthy, have over 2 teaspoons.
The recommendation is for your child to have no more than 5 teaspoons of sugar in the whole day!
Sugar might also be lurking in any drinks your children have with breakfast. A small glass of fruit juice can easily be another 3 teaspoons of sugar and many cordials and juices are now loaded with chemical sweeteners.
Find a better alternative and visit the Natural Doctor’s Kitchen for healthy breakfast alternatives.
2. Find Out How Your Kids Learn
Improving your child’s IQ is not all about nutrition - although it helps a lot! Make learning fun, praise your child and the effort they are making to learn. Show them it is OK to get things ‘wrong’. This all helps them enjoy and therefore engage with learning. It can also be really useful as parents to observe how your child learns best.
Are they visual, auditory, kinesthetic learners or a mixture of two or three? Find the best way to interact with and teach your kids.
Learn best when their sense of sight is stimulated. They can often love reading, drawing and painting. They can enjoy bright colours and are engaged by pictures. They will use more visual words like ‘Show me’, ‘Let me see that..’ or ‘I saw that…’
Learn best when their sense of hearing is stimulated. They often love music and remember the words to songs easily, they can enjoy reading out loud or having stories read to them and remember to do tasks best when you explain them to them (rather than write it down). They may use more auditory words like ‘Tell me’ or ‘I heard that…’
Learn best when their sense of touch and movement is engaged. They will often be practical and love building things (and taking things apart). They like moving and interactive toys and books. They like to move and be active and are also often described as ‘cuddly’ when little children, expressing love with hugs and a strong sense of touch. They may use more kinesthetic words like ‘I feel…’ ‘Let me hold that…’ and often use gestures and movements with speech.
These types aren’t fixed and your child may be a mixture of two or three, but in my experience, children who are primarily kinesthetic can struggle in the traditional school system.
Getting them moving and acting out ideas whilst teaching them and using methods like Montessori teaching (e.g. textured letters and fridge magnets for teaching reading) and blocks and beads to teach maths concepts can really help.
Kinesthetic children can struggle to sit still for long periods and involvements in sports and practical clubs can help. Make sure they are regularly allowed to change position or move.
Visual children (and adults!) do brilliantly with MindMap - a kind of brainstorming technique with lots of colours and pictures, pioneered by Tony Buzan. It is Dr Jess’s favourite way to learn and write notes.
If your child is struggling with revising and learning from books and lines of notes, then try teaching them to mind map.
Auditory children can do well with making subjects into songs and stories and reading things out loud. Later they can benefit from recording themselves speaking information and listening to it to learn.
Although education has come a long way and tries to engage all three styles of learning, auditory and visual learners often do better in a school environment. But by helping your child engage with learning in a way that makes sense to them, you can help them work out techniques that will work for them long term.
Dr Jess: I was 80% deaf (from multiple severe ear infections and antibiotics) until 6 years old when I had an operation to restore my hearing…
This may be why I developed such a strong visual side and realise I remember expressions on people’s faces more than the words they said!
I still struggle with auditory learning and found it much easier to learn using mind maps which revolutionised my ability to remember information.
Encouragement into memory techniques like this from my Dad really helped me later when taking tough exams and showed me how important it is to find the right learning technique.
3. Omega 3 Oil & Vitamin D
Unless their diet is high in fish (preferably wild or organic salmon or fish naturally low in heavy mercury), we recommend parents consider a high-quality omega 3 supplement. Dr Jess gives her children an environmentally responsible krill supplement (Clean Marine Krill Oil for kids is a good choice) as krill has the added benefit of astaxanthin (a powerful protective natural pigment), but a high-quality omega 3 is an alternative for those wanting to avoid krill.
Vitamin D deficiency is a big problem in the UK as our light levels mean that for 6 months of the year there is not enough sunlight to activate vitamin D. Supplementing Vitamin D - especially during winter - is a good idea and has been shown to help brain function.
The Benefits of Omega 3 for Children Include:
- Omega 3 supplements (environmentally responsible krill is excellent) and vitamin D supplements are important nutrients for brain health and function.
- A study showed fortifying 8-14 year olds children’s milk with omega 3 and vitamin D for 5 months improved their working memory and made their brain processing speed faster on tests (4).
- Omega 3 also helps visual development (5). Omega 3 supplements have been found to reduce the severity of ADHD (6) and autism symptoms (7) in children, and may improve aggressive behaviour (8).
- Omega 3 during pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of postnatal depression (9), preterm labour and lung problems, which is another bonus.
- In fact, all pregnant women can benefit from taking an omega 3 supplement (including krill oil) after the first trimester (13+weeks) in pregnancy as this is the best time to help the developing brain of your baby with the important nutrients (folic acid should also be taken as recommended to support the nervous system).
- Vitamin D supplementation can improve cognitive function (memory, learning and attention) in children with ADHD (10) and mental health, decision-making and reasoning in teenagers (11).
4. Avoid Brain Damaging Toxins
Whilst certain nutrients are important for brain health, we know of many chemicals that can damage nerves and affect brain development. These include:
More worryingly cadmium can stay in the body for up to 40 years and damages our liver, kidneys and brain. In children, verbal intelligence and performance of 5 year old's was damaged by higher cadmium levels (13).
Insecticides & Pesticides
This group of chemicals is used in non-organic farming and is in much higher levels in non-organic food. It is also in head lice shampoo, flea treatments, household insect treatments and mosquito products.
Exposure to these chemicals is common and it has been shown that cognitive performance (memory, learning and development) decreased in 6 year old children who had been exposed to higher levels of insecticides (16). Baby reflexes and development can also be decreased with higher levels of pesticides (17).
Exposure to mercury in pregnancy and early childhood can cause problems with memory, language, attention and fine motor skills (18). The main exposure of humans to mercury is from eating fish and seafood, and levels can be significantly increased by eating these daily (18).
It is also worth noting mercury levels in people with amalgam (mercury fillings) can be double that of those without (19). Thimersal is a mercury containing preservative in some vaccines given to children which can raise levels of mercury and may also affect development (20).
The fish highest in mercury are swordfish, bluefin tuna and Spanish mackerel. Atlantic mackerel, salmon and sardines are some of the best fish to eat as they are high in omega 3 and low in mercury.
A wide range of products contain phthalates, which are in many plastics like PVC, children toys, modelling clay, erasers, paint, waxes, vinyl, glues, medical devices, detergents, building materials, coatings of medications, food products, eyeshadows, perfumes and printing inks, to name just a few.
Terrifyingly, we are only just beginning to understand how dangerous this group of chemicals is. Pthalates are known to disrupt our hormones, may affect sexual development and cause thyroid problems (21). The amount of exposure during childhood is also shown to negatively affect our brain development and IQ (22).
Whilst we can’t avoid all phthalates, we can keep our levels as low as possible by using glass and ceramic containers, buying eco cleaning products, detergents and make-up that is phthalate free and choosing low toxicity vinyl flooring like Tarkett.
Look for household products and personal care items that are pthalate free and minimise plastic use.
Eat fish and seafood that is low in mercury like atlantic mackerel, salmon and sardines.
5. Stop Sitting & Move!
Some of the problem for children and learning is our classroom format - we work out our children’s brains by sitting all day learning new things but are getting much worse at providing enough physical exercise in school. Despite break times, school is pretty sedentary and the average primary school provides less than an hour a week of PE.
With rising obesity levels in children and decreasing PE sessions, it is important to make sure your child stays as active as possible. Exercise improves mood, helps the development of their bones and muscles, maintains weight and helps brain function.
Studies show increasing exercise increases the learning ability of school age children and improves their academic performance (grades) in school (25).
Straight after exercise children are better able to remember word lists and form long term memories (26).
Kids are advised to exercise for at least 60 minutes of aerobic exercise (intensive exercise that raises their heart rate) at least 3 times per week.
- Team sports develop social skills and fitness
- Ball games develop co-ordination
- Martial arts, gymnastics and dancing are excellent for strength, flexibility core and focus
- Riding a bike is great for balance
Any sports your child enjoys should be encouraged. In a sedentary world, encouraging an early passion for sport and physical activity will give your children lifelong better health as well as making them smarter!
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