How the Atmosphere in Your Home Can Foster Intelligence

The emotional climate you create in your home can do much to stimulate your child to learn, to foster his growing mental abilities. Or it can stunt his developing mind and dull his innate creative feelings. Your relationship with him as a parent, coupled with his inborn traits and temperament, will largely determine how he goes about learning for the rest of his life.

It’s impossible to blueprint precisely the ideal home in which maximum learning can take place—and have it fit every individual youngster. Children differ too much. So do

parents and family circumstances. But recent research suggests many important guidelines you can use to make your home a creative, stimulating environment for your child.

Many long-term research projects show that your youngster’s intelligence will develop to a higher degree if the attitude in your home toward him is warm and democratic rather than cold and authoritarian. In one study, for example, the IQ of small children living in homes where parents were neglectful or hostile or restrictive actually decreased slightly over a three year period. But in homes where parents were warm and loving, where they took time to explain their actions, let children participate in decisions, tried to answer questions, and were concerned about excellence of performance, there was an average increase in IQ of about eight points.

This doesn’t mean that you should be completely permissive or let your youngster run wild or interfere with the rights and possessions of others. It doesn’t mean giving her a vote equal to her father’s in a council that makes all the family decisions. Nor does it mean that your home must be child centered.

It does mean that you should love your child wholeheartedly and enthusiastically and be sure that she knows it. (If a youngster thinks her own parents don’t love her or approve of her, how can she face her teacher or her friends with self-confidence enough to keep trying?)

Sometimes it even helps to point out to a three- or four- or five-year-old just how many different ways you do show your love for him, especially if you work full time away from home or if you have a younger baby. Often an older child, who equates love only with hugging and cuddling, may

think that the baby is getting the bigger share.

“I show Lisa I love her by cuddling her and rocking her and changing her diapers,” you can tell your firstborn. “But you certainly don’t want diapers anymore, and you like to be rocked just once in a while, when you’ve hurt yourself or you are very tired. So I show you how much I love you in ways you enjoy better now—like inviting your friend Michael to go to the beach with us and reading to you and fixing the pedal on your trike and taking you to the park to swing. I even show you that I love you by not letting you play in the street, because I don’t want you to get hurt.”

A warm and democratic home also means that you plan your family’s activities to take into consideration your child’s needs to grow and develop as an individual and that you give him as much voice in decisions involving him as he can handle.

Your goal is to develop a thinking individual who can evaluate a situation and act appropriately—not a trained animal who obeys without question.

Even a two-year-old can be given choices, when you intend to abide by what she decides: “Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the green one today?” “Would you like to have your milk warm or cold this morning?” “Shall we have peas or carrots for dinner this evening?” “It’s almost bedtime; shall we finish the puzzle or shall we stop now so there will be time for a story?”

It helps, too, if you explain the why behind the rules you set up and the decisions you enforce on your child—not in tiresome detail, not as an apology, not at a level above her understanding, but as a teaching device. Your child will learn, gradually, to evaluate alternatives. She will slowly begin to accumulate information

upon which she can make good decisions. And she will realize, increasingly, that the rules you set up and the discipline you enforce are based on reasons and love and wisdom—not caprice or arbitrary or dictatorial power that she will sometimes feel compelled to challenge.

There is a happy by-product of this strategy, too. A two-year-old who is permitted some choices of his own isn’t quite so negativistic and zealous of his independence as is a child who is struggling for some beginning recognition of his developing self. An older child, who has learned that his parents set up rules and make decisions for him only when it is necessary, isn’t nearly so apt to rebel as a youngster whose mother or father expects him to obey “because I say so.”

“The intellectual tasks involved in the process of socialization are formidable,” pointed out Dr. Kenneth Wann and his

associates at Teachers College, Columbia University. “It is all too easy to come to see only the overtly behavioral aspect of social development. When this happens, then the job of the child is seen as simply that of conforming to the do’s and don’ts of behavior codes. The role of the adult, then, is viewed as primarily that of restraining the changing, overt behavior. This, of course, is not an adequate concept of the child’s task or the adult’s role. Such activity is part of the socialization process, but only a small part. The major task is intellectual. It consists of understanding and conceptualizing the demands of social living so that one can respond to the complex stimuli of continually varying situations with appropriate, adequate behavior.

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