Helen O’Callaghan speaks with a clinical psychologist whose guide for parents aims to nurture a child’s intelligence through experience.

DON’T just tell your seven-year-old about the stars — bring him outside after nightfall and let him stargaze. 

Build your nine-year-old’s imaginative thinking by asking how an orange and an apple are alike. 

Broaden your teen’s mind with visits to agricultural shows and churches, courts and fire stations, lighthouses and zoos.

These recommendations — billed as ways to unlock your child’s genius — come from Australian-based clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller, author of new book Unlocking Your Child’s Genius, How to Discover and Encourage Your Child’s Natural Talents.

Fuller doesn’t want to rush, fast-track or hot-house children. 

Instead, he wants parents to “raise children gently and naturally by establishing routines and rituals that will allow natural genius to blossom through play, fun and exploration”.

Nurture every child’s natural intelligence through play and engagement

Fuller says we’re seriously confused about the word ‘genius’. 

He debunks the myth that the spark of creative genius is something only a few people have. 

“We regard people as either being geniuses [or not]. 

"We’ve overlooked that each person has a genius — an inner creative spark that, when discovered and unlocked, leads them towards success in life. 

"The point of schooling, parenting and grand-parenting is to draw out the inner genius within children.”

And it’s not true that we’re born with a set amount of intelligence and we have to like it or lump it. 

Fuller has spent decades researching neuroscience, learning, and resilience and believes parents can be ‘neuro-architects’ of children’s brains. 

He says experiences drive both neuroplasticity — which the brain uses to generate itself — and myelination (allows us to think faster and more efficiently).

Nurture every child’s natural intelligence through play and engagement

“If we give children access to experiences, we can help them become much smarter.”

Acknowledging that very few of us are good at everything, he says people who make major contributions are rarely all-rounders. 

“They find their passion and focus on that. We all have to accept the parts of ourselves that do things well and the parts that are just pretty ordinary. 

"And being really good at everything at a young age doesn’t work out too well anyway. Very few child prodigies — Mozart is a rare exception — end up being adult experts.”

Fuller tells Feelgood that intelligence is like a multi-flavoured pizza.

“Some slices are rich with ingredients while others are barren and puny. 

"Identifying the strengths of your ‘pizza’ smarts means focusing on the parts of yourself or your child that you want to develop and accepting the other parts as they are.”

He identifies different types of smarts:

* Number smart: working with maths/numbers/calculations;

* Word smart: reading, writing, spelling

* Logic smart: thinking issues through and clearly

* Picture smart: art, design, construction, mechanics

* Technology smart: computers, using tools to create things, video making

* Body smart: fitness, health, strength, healing and acting

* Nature smart: farming, caring for animals, looking after the environment

* Music smart: playing, creating, singing or listening to music

* People smart: understanding others, creating friendships, resolving difference, managing, inspiring and connecting with other people

* Self-smart: knowing yourself, your likes, dislikes, your areas of strength and interests.

Fuller’s book is full of ideas. 

For example, he recommends bringing numbers into everyday life. 

Ask your child to tell you all the things he knows about eight — August is the eighth month, eight is an even number, eight is the number of hours most people sleep.

For helping children develop planning ability, control impulses and consider alternatives, he suggests running games, jumping ropes and basketball; Scouts, Cubs, Brownies and Guides; games of snap, Monopoly or chess; orienteering and mapping.

Nurture every child’s natural intelligence through play and engagement

To encourage persistence and grit, he advises giving children at least a sense of improvement within their first three tries at anything. 

This is because after three unsuccessful attempts, kids can become demotivated and give up. 

He says three factors need to be present for a child to love a challenge: it’s safe to have a go, there’s a sense of playfulness and there’s always a chance to have another turn.

If you want to help a child unlock his genius, two phrases are crucial, says Fuller – ‘get to’ and ‘yet’. 

You need to model these for your child. 

So instead of saying ‘I have to go to work’, reframe it ‘I get to go to work’. 

So your child doesn’t ‘have to do’ his homework – he ‘gets to do’ it. 

Nurture every child’s natural intelligence through play and engagement

“Shifting language from ‘I have to’ to ‘I get to’ helps us be more grateful and appreciate the wonderful opportunity of being alive,”he says.

And when your child moans that he’s ‘not good at numbers’, you may explore this in more detail with him or sometimes you could say ‘you’re not good at numbers yet’. 

“The addition of one little word can alter a child’s whole mindset,” says Fuller.

* Unlocking Your Child’s Genius, Andrew Fuller, €20.55.

Finding focus

Ability to concentrate is vital to unlock your child’s genius. Children have different concentration styles. 

Psychologist Andrew Fuller suggests ways to help each type focus. (Your child may overlap between styles).

Happy wanderers: Interested in everything they see — may not take in a word you say but will notice you have different shoes on today.

Use jigsaw puzzles, i-spy games, coloured pieces of paper to write notes to help their memory, photos to remind them of past successes.

Frequent flyers: Link seemingly unconnected ideas and concepts together with great creativity. Not good on detailed sequencing. 

Get them doing basic tasks — tidying up, cooking . Ask cueing questions: e.g. how many people are dining? How many knives will we need? Get them to sequence the process.

Spies: Pick up on every word, sound, nuance and tone. 

Have periods of learning in silence, play soft music to lower energy levels, play rhyming games and recite poetry, listen to audio books, play Simon Says.

Fidgeters: Always touching, fiddling, doodling, feeling, twisting and picking away at something. 

Get them doing Lego, building models, learning knitting or sewing, jigsaw puzzles, mazes, constructing and painting small figures.

Star trekkers: Often quick, exciting thinkers — often show flashes of brilliance followed by vagueness.

Help them to see patterns/connections. Flow charts, timelines, mind-maps, diagrammatic representations, chatting about how events relate, can all be helpful.

Social secretaries: They chatter in class, pass notes, send text messages and love social media. Make time for solo reflection to encourage independent thinking. 

They respond well to learning magic tricks, circus skills, acting/drama, singing/being in a choir, musical instruments, team sports and getting some responsibility for organising family functions.

Amplifiers: Turn up the volume on whatever’s happening around them; seek out intense experiences.

They respond well to time trials, challenges, games involving speed/action. Find activities that absorb and captivate them — try to diversify. 

These children need times to rev up/be very active followed by times of calm/rest, so alternate times of activity with times of passive learning.


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