Believing in the Young Child’s Abilities

What must adults do to nurture young children’s development—particularly their development of critical capabilities, such as initiative, concentration, persistence, self-control, and the ability to focus attention– abilities, necessary for organizing oneself to achieve a goal?

One key has to do with our attitude and belief about the child—if we believe the child can’t do something, we are likely to prevent him from trying.  Obviously, this can impede the child’s development. We must adjust our attitudes and demonstrate greater confidence in the child’s abilities. Obviously, we aren’t going to let a toddler drive the car or do the taxes!  But she is in the process of developing a LOT of skills and we don’t want to hold her back.  It is important to demonstrate confidence in young children’s abilities and approach them with high expectations.


  • Trust young children’s innate abilities and natural learning drives.
  • Accept young children’s unique personalities and approaches to learning.
  • Genuinely enjoy the children, with their emerging capabilities and unique personalities.
  • Use language that acknowledges children’s efforts without undue praise or judgment. When we constantly praise or criticize, we tell them their efforts should all be geared toward our interests, and this can squelch their intrinsic motivation to learn and become capable people.
  • Provide challenging work and, in learning environments, differentiated instruction.


  • A lot of teaching and telling.
  • Believe, and behave as though, they are the source of all learning.
  • Undue adult control.
  • Do everything for and to children, training children to be passive.
  • Hover, in a state of constant readiness for the moment a young child breaks or spills something or makes a mistake.
  • Label each action of the child as “good” or “bad.”  This is not to say there aren’t behaviors we consider good and others we consider bad– rather, it’s to suggest that, while they may do something differently than we would, that doesn’t make it wrong.

CONCLUSIONS.  My colleague and I identified 7 keys to nurturing young children’s emerging executive functions which are inter-related.  None stands alone– but this key represents a critical underlying attitude and approach for adults who want to release the greatest potential of young children in their care.

The teachers in the school where we observed were trained to believe in children’s capabilities more than most adults in our society. It seems that this attitude and approach allowed young children’s naturally emerging skills substantially more room to develop. Their parents would often assert that their child could not do something that the teacher knew the child could do. It seems that adults tend to underestimate the abilities of young children and this results in behaviors that often interfere with children’s learning.

When adults allow children to try activities in which they lack skill, young children try to do more, engaging in active, self-directed learning. Treated with high regard, they demonstrate self-confidence, initiative, and persistence. They seem to view the wide world as a source for learning and the adults as a secure base available for help, care, and interaction. Treated with high regard, they tend to treat others with high regard.

How do you demonstrate high regard and belief in the young child or children in your life?

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.

gt headshot pretty smile 2013

If you would like to talk with me about how you can best help the young child or children in your life to become the most capable, confident, happy individual possible, please give me a call at 303.975.6103.

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