Could This Controversial Parenting Move Make Your Kids Smarter?

Parents understand that every baby is on his or her own timeline—but a recent study suggests that little ones could benefit from being challenged. Will this sway your parenting style?

Baby Boosting Brainpower by Playing in Sandbox KELENY/Shutterstock
You know that not every child hits milestones at the exact "right" time. Maybe your little one said his first word ahead of the curve but hasn't mastered walking as quickly as his peers. Maybe your daughter just doesn't seem like she's ready for potty training even though your older child was already out of diapers by that age. 

As a parent, it's natural that you'll struggle to find the balance between assessing your child's abilities and keeping him or her on a schedule. You'll likely strive to steer your kids towards important accomplishments without pushing them before they seem ready. But according to a new study, there's a surprising benefit that might be associated with exposing your little ones to these sort of challenges. 

A recent study from The Norwegian University of Science Technology finds that babies get a boost in brain power when exposed to stimulation and challenge. Neuroscientist Audrey van der Meer has been studying the brain activities of babies for years, and her research presents something interesting: Neurons in the brains of babies increase and strengthen as children acquire new skills and mobility. While this isn't particularly surprising—you probably already knew that your baby would grow as he or she learned new things—the implications are eye-opening. 

According to the research, babies in Asia and Africa are exposed to gym activities and early potty training more often than their Western counterparts, and this early stimulation boosts brain power. The research suggests that even the smallest babies should be challenged with outdoor play, and exposure to a variety of materials and sensory experiences. The researchers argue that babies should freely experience stimulation—and that stimulation won't be as effective if they're simply pushed in strollers or carried, according to the research.

"Many people believe that children up to three years old only need cuddles and nappy changes, but studies show that rats raised in cages have less dendritic branching in the brain than rats raised in an environment with climbing and hiding places and tunnels," van der Meer says, according to a release for the study. "Research also shows that children born into cultures where early stimulation is considered important develop earlier than Western children do. This applies to both healthy children and those with different challenges. When it comes to children with motor challenges or children with impaired vision and hearing, we have to really work to bring the world to them."

The scientist points out that "early intervention" often refers to teaching children specific things when they're in the early elementary stage, but according to her research, intervention should occur much earlier. Children can learn by playing, facing stimuli and yes, maybe even pushed or challenged a bit.

What is your view on this? Have you ever felt like you needed to challenge your baby to hit certain benchmarks?