The toddler years are not just the “Terrible Twos” stage they’re famously known for; it is also the “Golden Age of Exploration” for your child. Your child’s brain grows fastest during this stage, and these critical brain-growth periods are the times where their brains’ nerve pathways are formed into the existing network that forms the neurological foundation of skills your child will use for the rest of his life.
This scientific explanation is the foundation of the belief that there are ways to raise smart toddlers. Child development psychologists and pediatricians call it jumpstarting a toddler’s brain development and don’t you worry, this doesn’t involve anything that will be hard for your toddler, or even you as a parent.
1. Talk to your toddler – a lot.
According to Brain Rules for Baby editor Tracy Cutchlow, the more you talk to your toddler, the more words he will learn.
How do you do it? Experts suggest you narrate your day, telling what you are doing while you’re doing it. It exposes your toddler to a variety of words and will help him relate words to actions, objects, colors – you name it. This is also the best time to practice reading more books to your child. Read aloud, make it fun, use a variety of voices.
2. Let him do physical play.
Physical play reinforces the mind-body connection. Choose toys that encourage imagination. Create a play environment that is imagination-friendly. This often involves more outdoor recreation adventures instead of letting him play with toys that run on batteries. Your child’s brain cells continue to multiple when he runs, climbs, touches, feels, throws and experiments with toys.
Most importantly, play with him. Toddlers remember experiences better when they have an emotional connection. In short, your child learns better when he plays with you!
3. Get him to sleep at a regular schedule.
There is no doubt that your toddler needs to sleep, not only to grow but also to recover all their lost energy during the day, but they need to have regular bedtime hours too. A study reveals that those who have irregular bedtimes until the age of three experience a lag in development when it came to reading, math skills and spatial awareness. Stick to a regular bedtime schedule. It will also be beneficial to you as a parent.
4. Reduce exposure to TV and gadgets.
Your child needs to hear a steady stream of language but television language is too fast for learning and isn’t interactive. According to research, too much screen time can actually negatively affect your child’s development. While there are a lot of educational and value-laden apps available, limit usage to nor more than 15 minutes a time.
5. Encourage creativity.
Brain Rules for Baby author John Medina says the best playroom for your toddler doesn’t involve taking design ideas from magazines or stores, it actually is starting with an empty, basic space to begin with. How often do we catch ourselves amazed when our toddlers can play for hours using a box and only a few minutes with an expensive toy? Blank papers (better yet, cheap blank posters plastered on walls) and crayons do more to educate your toddlers than toys – you are giving your child time and space to try and think of new things.
6. Teach them how to be independent and resilient.
These traits are two of the most important qualities your toddler will be better off learning at an early age. Teach him how to feed himself. Let me learn how to put himself to sleep at night. Let him pick himself up when he falls. Your child will not be emotionally traumatized – instead he will learn that in these instances, he can actually do things by himself.
7. Develop your toddler’s emotional intelligence (EQ).
According to Ross Flom, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Utah, developing emotional intelligence is important for cognitive and social development. Learning how to read and decipher emotions is a life skill.
A simple way to do this is tying an action to an emotion or word. When he puts back his toys, helps a fellow toddler or shares his toys or food, take a moment to encourage the simple behavior. You can say, “Mommy is so happy you shared your toy! Isn’t that amazing? Your playmate is also happy!”
8. Praise the effort not their intellect or perceived traits.
Research shows that children work harder and do better in school when their parents praise their efforts not their intelligence.
Instead of saying how smart your child is for acing his exam, you can say you are so happy that he studied so well to ace his test. Cutchlow says this approach has a lasting effect as children will have a growth mindset (they can do more if they try) instead of a fixed one (they can only do what is determined by their IQ or innate qualities) when they get older.
This mindset helps them be better adults equipped to handle disappointments, frustrations, problems and failes. ”Children with a growth mindset tend to have a refreshing attitude toward failure,” says Cutchlow. “They don’t ruminate over their mistakes. They simply perceive errors as problems to be solved, and then go to work.”
As a parent, your role at this stage of your child’s development is to be a provider – a provider of toys, creative opportunities, praise and consistent disciple and love. You don’t get to take an active role unlike his first year but rather you get to be a participant in the stage your toddler wants to play.