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A child’s intellectual ability and social and emotional skills are like muscles. They can develop, or atrophy, based on how well they are exercised. Here is a list of specific things parents can do to help their children exercise their brains.

Read to each child individually for 20 minutes a day. The suggestion is based on a 2011 study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. It found that children whose parents read with them regularly at a young age performed as much as a year ahead of their peers academically by age 15.

Talk to your kids. The average conversation length between parent and child closely correlates to the child’s future IQ and reading levels. The longer the conversation, the better. Longer conversations help kids learn about language and imaginative thinking.

Devote time to play. Play helps kids learn to interact with others and practice what they learn. Studies show that time spent playing make-believe actually helps children develop executive function, a cognitive skill that helps them self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses and exert self-control and discipline.

Find a high-quality preschool for your child. Visit programs and ask about their goals for addressing academic, social and emotional needs. Studies show that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs have better academic outcomes, earn more money and have higher rates of employment as adults.

Limit how much your kids watch television. Children who watch more than an hour of television per day have more difficulty concentrating and are more likely to struggle academically, according to research by the American Medical Association.