The Benefits of Allowing Babies to Struggle

Written by NPN Guest on March 31st, 2014

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Natural Learning, Responding With Sensitivity

Allowing Babies to Struggle

When I facilitated a professional development workshop, “Born to Move” for early childhood educators, I loved showing the video titled, “Don’t Help this Baby,” found on Janet Lansbury’s site, Elevating Childcare.

The participants watched the baby in the video slowly, VERY slowly, inch her way closer to a toy on her belly. I, along with the participants, watched in a state of suspense and anxiety. I stopped the video half way through and asked if anyone would offer some sort of intervention. The conversation often sounded like this:

Me: If you were observing this baby, what would you do?


  • I would move the toy closer!
  • I would move the baby closer!
  • I would get down on the baby’s level and say, “Come on! You can do it!”

Me: How is the baby feeling in this video?

Participants: Frustrated.

Me: What tells you that the baby is frustrated?

Participants: (silence)

At this point the participants discover that we, educators and caregivers, often project our own positive and negative emotions on a child’s experience. Without adult intervention the baby in the video reaches her goal. The observer only needed to observe and trust.

Easy lesson, right?

Fast forward. Now I have my own baby and I find myself constantly struggling with allowing her to struggle, to be unsuccessful or to take a really long time to reach a goal that I am not confident she can reach. I move toys closer when she’s not looking. In fact, sometimes I hand them to her. Why make her work when she’s getting tired? Or should I say, when I’m getting tired?

The tiny decision to put toys that I consider out of reach, into reach, has larger implications on our developing relationship. Impatience and lack of trust in my daughter’s ability to problem solve, cope with frustration, and define her own terms of success are quickly becoming the foundation of our relationship. To keep myself from interfering when she’s playing independently I leave the room.

However, I cannot nor want to hide in the next room forever.

I know what needs to change, and putting it in writing is only the beginning to becoming a better mom. I do not expect to be perfect, nor should I expect perfection from my daughter. When I am tempted to manipulate her path because of fear, inadequacy or anxiety, I will remember these promises that I make to myself and baby:

I promise:

  • To give you PERMISSION to fail.
  • To provide you TIME to succeed.
  • To TRUST your process.
  • To ACCEPT you fully and completely, as is.
  • To BELIEVE you are capable.

With these reminders, I hope to be the parent whose daughter someday ventures into the world with gusto and grit, embraces failures, celebrates successes and always knows that she is enough. And when life puts something just out of reach, she will figure out a way to reach it.


Mary Sue Reese holds a BFA in dance and a MAT in Early Childhood Education. Before becoming a stay at home mom, Mary Sue was the Lead Educator and Program Manager for Early Learning at the Chicago Children’s Museum. Read more at Mary Sue’s site, Hand in Play.

Photo Credits

CeeKay Pix

One Response to The Benefits of Allowing Babies to Struggle

  1. Amy  

    Powerful promises, Mary Sue. I really appreciate this sharing. It speaks to so much that is important for the parent child relationship. Mainly, trust. Silent, appreciative observation of our children is a skill to be learned for many of us. I’ve written about it here and there. Possibly this will come in handy at some point for you…