Young Children allowed to work to their Heart’s Content…

What allows toddlers and young children to develop great executive functions and the ability to organize themselves toward a goal?  

One key is that children must have work to do that is interesting to them and is optimally challenging. For toddlers, that’s simple– they are interested in learning to do what other people can do– put on their clothes, eat independently, use the toilet independently, prepare and clean up after meals, etc.

Another important key is to let young children work to their heart’s content—without undue directing or interrupting.


  • Allow children to work long and hard at learning activities that interest them- without interruption.
  • Watch and wait to see what children will do. As long as they are not hurting themselves or others, observe quietly, with an open mind– to see what they may be learning from their work.
  • Maintain awareness of when adult presence and help serves a child and when it is likely to be demoralizing or intrusive.
  • Sit on your hands—keep yourself from swooping in to correct or redirect, trusting that young children will learn for themselves when we allow that.
  • Try this—establish a time of day for quiet, focused work and ensure that the adults protect that.


  • Constantly direct children’s work.
  • Interrupt children’s work.
  • Talk to young children or narrate their activities without regard for the times that their activity requires concentration and focus.
  • Change activities on a schedule that does not support the child’s time-frame for learning.

Conclusions:  Young children, especially infants and toddlers, are so cued in to language that they will abandon almost every task in favor of attending to language. Caregivers of young children must more thoughtfully discriminate between times for language and relationship work and times when young children are ready to do focused, self-directed work unrelated to language. When adults allow young children to work to their heart’s content at something that is interesting and optimally challenging, young children demonstrate great focus, concentration, and persistence. They demonstrate mental flexibility and are able to correct themselves.

Toddlers are regularly observed to work at meaningful tasks in a focused way, persisting and self-correcting, for long periods. When their attention slips, they bring themselves back into the work in a self-motivated way. Can you see the value of that?

Toddlers demonstrating focus, persistence, and self-control!?  In environments where adults direct and talk to children all the time, or keep children constantly engaged in group activities, we would never see these capabilities for self-direction and self-management.

Observing such capabilities, one feels the young child is not only demonstrating emerging executive functions; they are developing respect—from the inside out.

What can you do to become more aware of the times a young child is concentrating on challenging work?

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D.

If you woulgt headshot pretty smile 2013d like to talk with me more about how to discover and release the brilliance of q toddler or young child you care for, please give me a call  at 303.975.6103.


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