LOS ANGELES — Training a child to hold a whole cluster of items in his or her memory for even a short time may feel like trying to hold a wave on the sand. But a study published Monday says it’s a drill that can yield lasting benefits.

Kids who have had such training have better abstract reasoning and solve problems more creatively than kids who haven’t, the study found.

But here’s a warning to parents already grooming their young children for entry into elite universities: Don’t automatically rush out to enroll your young genius in brain-training summer camp or invest in DVDs promising to deliver high IQs. These drills, the scientists found, pay the greatest dividends for kids who actually need them and who find the escalating challenge of the games fun, not frustrating.

For others, “it might be difficult if you push your kid too much,” said study lead author Susan Jaeggi, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s like a parent pushing a child to do sports or learn a musical instrument: There’s always this delicate balance between too much or too little.”

The training program used by Jaeggi and coworkers focused on ramping up working memory – the ability to hold in mind a handful of information bits briefly, and to update them as needed. Cognitive scientists consider working memory a key component of intelligence. But they have long debated whether strengthening short-term memory capacity would boost a person’s overall intellectual function, and will do so even after the brain-training sessions are over.

It can, and it does, according to this new research, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study put elementary and middle school children through a rigorous month-long regimen of computer games designed to test, challenge and strengthen their working memory.