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Archive for Saturday, July 24, 2004

Proper stimuli can increase intellectual ability

July 24, 2004

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We have a 1-year-old daughter and we want to raise her right. I've heard that parents can increase the mental abilities of their children if they stimulate them properly during the early years. Is this accurate, and if so, how can I accomplish this with my baby?

Research has shown that parents can, indeed, increase the intellectual capability of their children. This conclusion was first reached through the renowned Harvard University's Preschool Project. A team of researchers lead by Dr. Burton White studied young children aged 8 to 18 months over a 10-year period, hoping to discover which experiences in the early years of life contribute to the development of healthy, intelligent human beings. The results of this important study are summarized below.

l It is increasingly clear that the origins of human competence are to be found in a critical period of development between 8 and 18 months of age. The child's experiences during these brief months do more to influence future intellectual competence than any time before or after.

l The single most important environmental factor in the life of the child is his or her mother. "She is on the hook," said Dr. White, and carries more influence on her child's experiences than any other person or circumstance.

l The amount of live language directed to a child (not to be confused with television, radio or overheard conversations) is vital to his or her development of fundamental linguistic, intellectual and social skills. The researchers concluded, "providing a rich social life for a 12- to 15-month-old child is the best thing you can do to guarantee a good mind."

l Those children who were given free access to living areas of their homes progressed much faster than those whose movements were restricted.

l The nuclear family is the most important educational delivery system. If we are going to produce capable, healthy children, it will be by strengthening family units and by improving the interactions that occur within them.

l The best parents were those who excelled at three key functions:

They were superb designers and organizers of their children's environments.

They permitted their children to interrupt them for brief, 30-second episodes, during which personal consultation, comfort, information and enthusiasm were exchanged.

They were firm disciplinarians while simultaneously showing great affection for their children. Occasionally, information comes along that needs to be filed away for future reference. These findings from the Harvard University Preschool Project are that significant. You will not want to forget those six findings. I believe they hold the keys to raising healthy children.

I am a single mother with a 5-year-old son. How can I raise him to be a healthy man who has a good masculine image?

As I think you recognize from your question, your son has needs that you're not properly equipped to meet. Your best option, then, is to recruit a man who can act as a mentor to him -- one who can serve as a masculine role model.

In her book, "Mothers and Sons," the late Jean Lush talked about the challenges single mothers face in raising sons. She says the ages 4 to 6 are especially important and difficult. I agree. A boy at that age still loves his mother, but he feels the need to separate from her and gravitate toward a masculine model. If he has a father in the home, he'll usually want to spend more time with his dad apart from his mother and sisters. If his dad is not accessible to him, a substitute must be found.

Admittedly, good mentors can be difficult to recruit. Consider your friends, relatives or neighbors who can offer as little as an hour or two a month. In a pinch, a mature high schooler who likes kids could even be "rented" to play ball or go fishing with a boy in need.

Certainly single mothers have many demands on their time and energy, but the effort to find a mentor for their sons might be the most worthwhile contribution they can make.

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