Let’s break this myth once and for all! Babies’ brains are not blank slates— it is just NOT true!
The idea that the human mind at birth is a “blank slate” has been popular through much of human history. Aristotle was a proponent of the “tabula rasa” theory, as were St. Thomas Aquinas and John Locke. There was some wisdom in the idea. It helped people to realize that children learn a lot about how to behave appropriately in civilized society by observing adults and older children in their environment.
Because of their lack of experience and skills, it can be easy for us to believe that babies are something like unformed blobs of clay which we must shape. That leads us to see it as our job to shape them into our image of what they should become.
Unfortunately, our view of them as empty-headed creatures we must protect and shape causes us to profoundly underestimate their intelligence and, too often, to restrict their movement and exploration. The unintended effect is that we impede their learning and development.
Fortunately, we live in times in which a majority of adults feel kindly and helpful toward the most immature of our species. Our babies will often tolerate our treating them like empty-headed beings pretty well as long as we’re kind about it. But, by the time they are toddlers, we are in for a fight! After all, there’s no person alive who wants to be molded into somebody else’s idea of a person!
Infants and young children have extraordinary abilities—and developing these abilities is foundational to building adult capabilities. Ability builds upon ability, skill builds upon skill. Human infants are highly driven and “wired” for learning, and these drives and this “wiring” propels huge amounts of brain development occur in the first few years of life.
There are some wonderful videos of infants showing how much more intelligent and capable babies are then we tend to realize. Maybe you have seen the YouTube video of very young babies swimming—it is startling in revealing the talents babies have. It’s inspiring! They can swim before they can walk. (enjoy the great YouTube video below — it is under 2 minutes in length.)
I wish my parents had known about this when I was a baby! If I had been allowed to swim to my heart’s content as a young child, I would likely be a good swimmer now. So many things are easier to learn when we’re very young and driven to learn.
I share these examples about the genius of babies because I believe we profoundly underestimate our babies in our society in these times. At least, in many industrialized societies. They deserve higher regard from us! More on that another day!
When have YOU been amazed by the intelligence or talent of a baby under one year old?
Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., www.bornforbrilliance.com, 303-975-6103