Parenting Styles to Promote Intellectual Success

In Lise Eliot’s great book What’s Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, she cited studies that uncovered the four features of parenting that most consistently relate to a child’s future intellectual and academic success. Studies were completed through extensive home observations. While these studies were conducted with parents of children without developmental issues, it stands to reason that children who are struggling would benefit from these parenting practices even more!

1. Nurturing– Children need parents who are physically affectionate and emotionally supportive. In real life this looks like parents who shower their toddlers with hugs and kisses and hold them often. It means comforting them when they are upset. Research tells us that babies thrive with physical contact because they need their parents close to them to be able to see and hear since theses skills are somewhat limited during infancy. Higher childhood IQ scores are traced back to warmth, affection, and praise during a child’s toddler and preschool years. For parents with older children this means being emotionally responsive and encouraging. One study of gifted teenagers found that parental support was the single most important characteristic that best determined if children made the most of their talents. Kids who are struggling to learn to talk need even more nurturing because they spend lots of time being frustrated. A soothing word from an empathetic parent can go a long way in making things better.

2. Responsiveness – For infants this means not only promptly responding to physical needs for food, a dry diaper, and sleep, but also responding to their intellectual needs for stimulation and interaction. Babies do cry for a variety of reasons, and boredom is one of them. You must be verbally responsive to your child for him to learn language and for him to learn to be social and interactive. It means being sensitive to your child’s unique needs and responding appropriately. It means not letting a baby cry for 10 minutes straight (or even a couple of minutes) without checking on them. It means not letting a toddler roam around the house with no direction and nothing to do. Children who come from neglectful homes sometimes stop trying to communicate (or never start) because no one has consistently responded to their attempts.

3. Involvement -As her book so bluntly states, involvement doesn’t mean driving your child around to lessons and play dates so that you can sit around and talk to other adults. It means direct, one-on-one interactions when both of you direct your attention to the same activity. Several studies found a positive correlation between children’s IQ or academic achievement and the amount of time they spent in shared activities with their parents. These studies did not state that the activity had to be “academic,” but that the child and parent both enjoyed what they were doing. Most parents think about reading books as one of these activities. This is great if your toddler wants to read, but a large percentage of kids with language delays don’t particularly like this until they are a little older. Pick an activity he likes and join in. Or pick one that you like and can adapt for him. If you’re a gardener, buy him a plastic shovel and let him dig in the dirt with you. When you’re cooking, set out pots and pans or bowls with lids for him to use. When my children were babies, I lugged them all over the house with me with whatever chore I was doing and never left them alone for more than a few minutes. By the time they were toddlers, they were used to the routine, so they followed me everywhere. You have to be in close proximity to children to teach them, and frankly, to parent them. It can’t be done any other way.

4. Demanding – While this trait may seem to contradict the earlier ones, parents who expected mature behavior and had high expectations had children with more positive outcomes. The current trend in parenting places lots of emphasis on promoting self-esteem, but sometimes at the expense of discipline and self-control. Studies show that parents who have high expectations AND are sensitive to their children’s needs have children with fewer long term behavioral problems and better academic success than those with very permissive parents or demanding parents who are not very responsive. You have to help your kid figure out how to behave, not just how not to behave. There is a fine line between “demanding” and “pressuring.” No child with a developmental issue benefits from having his parents expect behaviors that are beyond his capacity. However, I have seen many parents of children with developmental delays who have?no behavioral standards, and guess what they get a child who is out of control because that’s all he knows.

This “demanding” characteristic also seems to have a positive outcome with children who are learning how to communicate. If you expect your child to learn how to talk to you at the level he’s most able to achieve, chances are he will. I have seen a few mothers and fathers “give up” too soon. Keep expecting more.


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1 Comment

  1. Andrea on February 8, 2008 at 9:57 am

    My 18mo son is not talking as well as my 4yo daughter did at this same age. She was a babblemouth and he doesn’t seem to want to talk at all. I have expressed my concerns with our pediatrician and was told to not be concerned. Family memebers don’t seem to be interested in the subject at all. I have a few question for you and I hope you don’t mind. Why should I be concerned about my child learning to talk at a late age? Do all children who start talking at a late age fall behind in school? How can someone tell the difference between a ‘late talker’ who will catch up on his own, and a child who is not talking and is at risk for later difficulties? If my child is a late talker who will catch up on his own, then he will not need help from a Speech Language Pathologist, right?

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