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How to Influence a Child's Brain Development

Updated on August 20, 2014


  • Teach children strategies like sorting and naming to improve their ability to recall words or objects. Focus on the important facts – the who, what, when, where, how and why— to teach narrative skills and how to think about events in terms of time and causality.

  • Illustrated storybooks help younger children to understand longer phrases. Dialogue with children about what you have read and encourage their comments. Introduce pictureless books to older preschoolers to teach them that words alone create imagery. Preschoolers love word games, like making up rhymes or alliterations, such as “The big brown buffalo built a brand-new boat in the bayou."
  • Consistently challenge children in a warm and supportive way. Be warm, nurturing, supportive, stimulating, responsive yet demanding. Play the role of facilitator rather than instructor – help each child find interesting and challenging projects, answer questions, suggest new approaches and foster a sense of mastery. Children learn by doing.


What could be more enlightening than knowing how your child’s brain functions? l don’t claim to have an exact roadmap, but you might want to read on to learn about important findings by Lise Eliot, Ph.D., which I have summarized from her book "What’s Going on in There".

Social-Emotional Growth

Your child needs to feel accepted and respected. Talk a lot to your child about his feelings and relationships in order to help him develop the skill of introspection. Gently challenge him by encouraging him to face his fears so that he can learn to cope with minor stresses.

Memory Skills

Memory improves with practice. The early years constitute a critical period for establishing a lifelong arsenal of memory skills. So challenge your child to use her memory. Children love to be told stories since stories help them hone their own narrative skills. Focus on the important facts – the who, what, when, where, how and why — to teach how to think about events in terms of time and causality.


Language opens up a universe of questions, reasoning, social communication and opinions. Language is a critical foundation for what we consider to be intelligent behavior. A child’s brain absorbs language easily and efficiently – particularly rules and grammar – until six or seven years of age. By early adulthood the critical period for acquiring language skills is over. Genes play a major role in determining your child’s ability to acquire and use language, but the quality and quantity of language exposure also shape the structure and function of your child’s linguistic brain. Ideally your child should get a lot of positive feedback, such as repeating your child’s vocalizations or following them with questions, elaborations or affirmations. At every age you should find that happy medium of speaking to your child in a way that is largely within his reach of understanding but also stretches him just a bit beyond his abilities. Illustrated storybooks help younger preschoolers to understand longer phrases. Dialogue with your child about what you have read and encourage your child’s comments. Introduce pictureless books to your older preschooler to teach him that words alone create imagery.

From curiosity over awe and amusement to "whatevs" in 16 seconds.


Intelligence is determined equally by genes and environment which means you can still do a lot to improve your child’s intellectual abilities. Several studies report a significant cognitive and language advantage for children in high-quality child care facilities over those reared at home. Group care enriches a child’s life. Children of parents who are more nurturing, who are very involved and responsive, but also have high expectations tend to be intellectually and academically more successful.. An involved and responsive parent really listens to his child to understand what she is trying to say and engages in a lot of verbal give-and-take. A parent with high expectations insists on mature behavior, independence and obedience to clear rules.

What promotes high-achieving children’s cognitive development in the long run are measures that foster children’s enthusiasm, industry, perseverance and motivation to learn. For shared activities with your child choose something you enjoy, enabling you to teach the pleasure of accomplishment, experimentation and creativity. Your child gets a close-up view of mature thinking and behavior. Consistently challenge your child in a warm and supportive way. Expect hard work but not a particular level of achievement. But relax there is always the other 50% genetically determined intelligence on which you have no influence.


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