Mozart Shmozart

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve got two children, ages 1 and 3 and I’ve heard that it’s possible to boost their IQ by exposing them to certain kinds of music. My wife says I’m crazy. Is there any possibility that she’s right?

A: What you’re talking about is the “Mozart Effect”—the popular idea that listening to music by Mozart would make children smarter. I don’t have enough information to say for sure whether you’re actually crazy, but I can tell you that while exposing your children to music is a great thing, it’s not going to make them any smarter. Unfortunately, that inconvenient fact hasn’t stopped all sorts of companies from claiming otherwise—and from separating a lot of parents from a lot of their hard-earned money.

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Genius, Love, and Autism + Refeathering the Empty Nest

Kristine Barnett, author of The Spark
A mother’s story of nurturing, genius, and autism
Issues: A conversation with the mother of a child whose IQ is higher than Einstein’s, taught himself calculus in two weeks, and became a paid researcher in quantum physics at age 12—but who doctors thought would never be able to tie his own shoes.

Wendy Aronsson, author of Refeathering the Empty Nest
Life after the children leave
Issues: Preparing for the shift from parent to empty-nester; navigating the confusing emotions when your youngest finally leaves home; the challenges, uncertainties, and fears; how your marriage may change; (re)learning to focus on yourself; what happens when the kids move back home

Debunking the Mozart Effect

We are parents of two kids, 6 and 8, and our closest friends have kids the exact same ages. These friends swear that they can increase their children’s IQ by playing certain kinds of music. I think they’re full of it. But could they possibly be right? Does music actually increase a child’s intelligence?

Remember the Mozart Effect’the wildly popular idea that listening to music by Mozart would boost children’s IQ? Don Campbell, who took the Effect out of the lab and into the shopping mall, sells all sorts of products that supposedly will make your child smarter. Turns out, though, that the Mozart Effect does nothing of the kind (although that hasn’t stopped Campbell and others from making a ton of money).
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Is There Intelligent Life in Your Living Room?

Dear Mr. Dad: This might sound silly, but is there some way to tell if my daughter is a genius? She’s only seven but I think she’s a lot smarter than I am.

A: As parents, we’re always worried about how our kids are doing, and there’s no shortage of information on warning signs of some terrible condition, or red flags that might indicate something else. But it’s pretty rare to read about signs that our kids might be above average instead of below.

You’d think it would be a you-know-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing. And it can be. Sometimes. In England, a 4-year-old girl was recently accepted into Mensa (—a society of geniuses. Officially, one has to be a teenager to get accepted, but this little girl’s IQ came in at 159 (Einstein and Stephen Hawking just squeaked past her at 160). By age two she had taught herself to add and subtract and was reading elementary school books.

Cases like this are quite rare. And I’d bet that for every one of them, there are at least 10 kids who are just as smart but whose high intelligence goes unnoticed because they’re bored out of their minds and spend their time screwing around instead of working.

So what are the” warning” signs of extreme intelligence? Here are a few indicators suggested by the American Association of Gifted Children ( Your daughter may be a genius (IQ of 140+), or just gifted (IQ of 110-140) if she:

  • seems much more mature than other kids her age.
  • has trouble interacting with her agemates and prefers to hang out with older kids or adults.
  • developed language skills early. That could have shown up as skipping the babytalk and going straight to full sentences, or teaching herself to read. My middle daughter scared me half to death when, at the ripe young age of three, she started reading signs on stores we were driving by.
  • regularly questions authority.  This doesn’t necessarily mean she has no respect for authority, just that she asks a lot of really tough questions.
  • is easily bored.
  • Is incredibly curious and absorbs new information the first time she hears it.
  • likes to collect, organize, compare, and contrast.

If a few of the above are true for your child, it’s probably worth getting her tested.

Okay, assuming your daughter is really, really smart. Now what? Here are a few ways you can nurture and encourage her intelligence even if she is the smartest person in the room—including you.

  • Read. Talk about the stories, the subplots in the illustrations. Encourage her imagination by asking her to make up another story using the same characters.
  • Minimize exposure to “educational” videos or “brain-building” games—most of which are neither. What she really needs is live interactions with other people.
  • Talk about everything and anything. Ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers. You’ll probably learn something. Things like, What would happen if we dropped this uncooked egg on the rug? What about if we tossed it out a car window while we’re driving?
  • Don’t push too hard—or too little. On one hand you don’t want her to burn out. On the other, a brilliant child who’s lazy will eventually be left in the dust by a plain, old bright kid who works hard.
  • Be the adult. Yes, your child may be smarter than you, but she still needs your help navigating the world. Hopefully you’ve got more knowledge and common sense.

Breastfeeding Dad

Dear Mr. Dad: My baby’s mom and I are separated and I hardly ever get to see my 9-month old son because my ex is breastfeeding. Isn’t there some way I can spend more than just a few hours at a time with him?

A: Feeding your baby is a wonderful way for the two of you to bond with each other. And yes, there are some ways for you to increase your time with him. But before we get to that, it’s important to acknowledge that your ex is doing a fantastic thing for your son.

Current recommendations are that babies should have nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life, then, over the next six months, gradually phase out the milk and phase in solid food. As you may have heard, breastfed babies have stronger immune systems, are less likely to develop ear infections or pneumonia, and may even have higher IQs. Keep in mind, though, that it’s not the act of breastfeeding that gives babies all these advantages; it’s the actual breast milk itself.

Most mothers will express, or pump, their breast milk using a breast pump. The milk can stay in the refrigerator for up to a week or be frozen for several months. Later, when your baby is with you, you’ll give him that milk in a bottle. Using pumped breast milk will allow you to take your son overnight—but you and your ex will have to cooperate. Unfortunately, using a breast pump can make women feel like a cow. And pumps aren’t cheap (they can cost as much as $350). She can rent one, but long term, that will end up costing even more. If your ex won’t provide breast milk, you could give your baby formula—if your pediatrician agrees—until he hits 12 months, which is when he can start drinking cow’s milk. But your wife would still need to pump when the baby’s with you to keep up her milk supply.

If your son has never had a bottle, introducing one might be tricky. Here are some tips:

  • Practice. Don’t wait until you have your son for a full day before trying a bottle. Drinking from a bottle is different than breastfeeding so give your baby a chance to get the hang of it.
  • Offer a bottle a little earlier than his regular feeding time so he’s not starving.
  • Ask your ex to go somewhere else while you’re introducing the bottle. Babies can smell their mothers up to 20 feet away and he may not want to try something new if he can smell her breast
  • Don’t force it. If your son resists, try again a little later. You might also try putting some breast milk on the nipple of the bottle, experimenting with a different type of nipple, or changing positions.
  • If your son flat out refuses to take a bottle, try putting the milk in a sippy cup.

Most babies your son’s age have already started eating at least some solid foods (although “solid” is hardly the right word—“soupy” or “mushy” would be closer). In fact, it’s possible that several of his daytime snacks and feedings in a row consist entirely of baby food (the kind you can buy in the grocery store). This opens up the opportunity for you to take your son for a pretty good stretch. However, to quickly identify allergies, introduce new foods slowly—one at a time every few days. And make sure you and your ex are sharing this information with each other.