How to Raise “Smart” Kids (it’s not what you think!)

Most parents of young children (starting at 1 year old) become preoccupied with this quest of raising “a smart kid”. I personally stopped using the word “smart” in my communication with my son after I read Dr. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, many years ago.

In reality, I believe that all parents want to raise children who are self-aware; can tolerate risk and failure well; can easily adapt in new situations (age-appropriate); can communicate their needs; and show kindness to themselves and others. Today, I will share excerpts from my own book, Conscious Parenting of Your Toddler: Strategies to Turn Discipline into Growth and Connection (2020), to inspire you to think of “how to raise a smart kid” in a whole new way: the conscious way.

Executive Functioning

“Executive functioning is the brain’s ability to plan and execute a cognitive task. Our brains integrate working memory, inhibitory control (i.e., self-control) , and mental flexibility in order to plan, problem solve, and make decisions. We expect these functions from our children, but as adults we often fail to demonstrate them ourselves. We yell, we scold, and we want things our way. Conscious parenting invites you to reflect on your own executive functioning skills (*when things don’t go your way!). [..] It is important to identify our triggers so we can self-regulate (have self-control) in the moment. Ask yourself the following:

  • Is there a certain moment of the day when I feel most triggered?
  • Is there a certain word or behavior from my child that pushes my buttons?
  • Is it when I am sleep-or-food-deprived that I lack patience or empathy for myself or my child?
  • Is it when my needs for support and connection are not being met that I react, only to regret it later?
  • Is it when I feel alone and/or overwhelmed as a parent that I can’t control my reactions?

Writing down the answers to these questions is a powerful exercise. ***Please work with a trusted therapist or coach if this work is too hard or too painful to do alone.***

[…] It is in the toddler years that a parent can model these executive functioning skills in order to plant the seeds of what it will take for their child to live a secure and happy life. A toddler’s young mind will absorb what we model for them. The conscious modeling of behavior is conscious parenting. ”

What You Need To Know About Your Child:

  • A child is totally dependent on parents to develop a sense of safety and security in the world.
  • A child ‘s development is impacted by how parents respond to their behavior on a daily basis.
  • A child uses emotional outbursts ( so called “misbehaviors” or “tantrums”) to communicate that something doesn’t feel good inside.
  • The way a parent self-regulates helps model emotional regulation in their children.
  • Children need secure attachment in order to develop executive functioning skills.

Self-Reflecting Questions:

  • Do I have a good understanding of how my child thinks and communicates emotions?
  • Do I have age-appropriate expectations of my child?
  • Do I model self-regulation well?
  • Do I model mental flexibility well?
  • What aspects of my self-regulation do I need to change?
  • What aspects of my mental flexibility do I need to change?

Once you’ve committed to this work of self-inquiry and self-observation, you will change from the inside out.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a long process, and often painful. However, it is the only way to “raise smart kids”.
Please, don’t fall in the cultural trap of academic “head-start” programs or teaching your kids how to read at 3 years old- if anything, these activities will create unbearable pressure on your child, which is the opposite of “getting smart”.

I want to hear from you. DM- me on Instagram @prof_mihaela

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