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IQ: What makes a bright child?

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

What makes one child more intelligent than another? To a large extent it is down to genetics but experts believe there are ways to make sure your child reaches his full intellectual potential.

So how can you boost your child’s brainpower?

Start early

The early years matter. Up to the age of four a child’s brain grows massively. It’s reached 90% of its adult size before your child goes to nursery. This period is a great window for learning.

Talk to your baby, make eye contact, and respond to your child even though they won’t at first understand you.

Child psychologist Professor Joan Freeman says: "It’s important to nurture intelligence from birth. The way a parent behaves towards a baby has a direct influence on its behaviours and development."

If your child feels safe and secure he is more likely to be in a position to learn.

A study by Washington University School of Medicine in the US even suggests that children who are given affection and love from their mums as infants have a better ability to learn. They found school age children whose mums nurtured them in early life have brains with a larger hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory.


Building up close affectionate attachments and relationships with parents and care givers is key.

"Interaction with the child is crucial to developing IQ," says Professor Freeman, author of Gifted Lives, a book about very able and gifted children.

She says listening to the child and talking with them is vital: "Parents need to draw out intelligence, listen and talk with a child."

She recommends giving them encouragement and the opportunity to express themselves.


Good nutrition may play a part an important part in building intelligence. Various food stuffs have been linked to brain food status from oily fish and blueberries to tomatoes and pumpkin seeds. The best thing really is to eat a well balanced diet with plenty of vitamins.

Nutritional therapist Jackie Lynch says: "The greatest brain development takes place in the first three years of life, which is when the brain is growing the fastest, so good nutrition is very important in early childhood."

She adds: "What your child is eating at the age of three can directly impact on their IQ by the time they’re eight years old."

A study of 4,000 children published by Bristol University suggested that three-year-olds who eat a diet high in sugar and processed foods have a lower IQ at the age of eight than children who eat a healthy diet that were rich in salad, rice, pasta, fish, fruit and vegetables.

Jackie says that even if you get the building blocks right when they’re little, poor nutrition can still affect concentration and memory when they’re older.

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