Developing Intelligence and Self-Reliance

by Ginny Trierweiler, Ph.D., child psychologist and parent coach

prefrontal cortex

I studied child development in depth for more than 30 years, so I know that babies are intelligent and inherently driven to learn.  But I didn’t realize how capable infants and young children were until I observed them for years in a Montessori school for infants and young children.  I was astonished to see the capability and native intelligence of the young children.

As the director of the school, I also had many opportunities to see how our society’s approach to child-rearing leads to underestimating children.  I saw 14 month old Kira work very hard all day on walking, learning to eat independently, learning to take her pants off to use the toilet.  The job of the trained adults in her classroom was to support her developing intelligence and self-reliance as much as possible.  If she needed a little help getting started with something, like pulling her pants down, they would help a little, and then let her take over.

Observing the situation, I could see she was very inherently motivated to learn to do this for herself.  She appreciated a little bit of help, but then she wanted to do it herself.

One day, I saw Kira’s Mom arrive to pick her up at the end of the day.  She was happy and excited to see her baby, and her baby was excited and happy to see her, too.  That’s why it was confusing to her Mom when it all went downhill from there.

Kira’s Mom went to her and picked her up to kiss her, and Kira made an upset face.  Mom put her down on a bench and started to put her shoes on and Kira started crying.  Mom picked her up again to carry her out to the car and Kira had a full-blown melt-down. Kira’s mom did not understand why Kira was behaving this way and I think she experienced Kira’s behavior as personally rejecting.  She started scolding her– do you want me to leave you here?  They were not communicating!

Studying child development in depth for 30 years, I knew that babies were naturally driven to learn.  You watch your baby and see how determined he is to get himself to the kitty.  He organizes himself and scoots or crawls to get there.  We do NOT need to motivate him to learn and develop– the motivation to learn and explore and interact actively with the world is present from the beginning.


How often do parents have miscommunications with their young children stemming from doing too much for them?  What is your experience with this?

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