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A blogger for Resources for Infant Educarers, the organization founded by the famed Magda Gerber, said recently, “We don’t think twice about interrupting infants and toddlers, mostly because we don’t value what they are doing.” This is a startling idea, one that suggests that preschoolers’ short attention spans begin when they are constantly interrupted as babies. It also makes me wonder, “What are babies doing and what do babies think about?”

What babies are doing is figuring out how their equipment works. They are practicing using their eyes and ears to bring information. They are practicing control and coordination of their muscles, gaining physical strength, and expanding sensory information through touch and taste. All of this supports brain development by creating neural pathways and increasing the speed of neural response. This is essential stuff. It clearly takes some powers of concentration.

What babies think about, to the extent that babies think at all, develops their sense of intention and their appreciation of cause and effect. Babies who see a mobile might intend to touch it and move their arms or legs to do so, then notice the effect of their efforts. This also is important stuff that creates brain connections and takes uninterrupted time to accomplish.

To us, though, it may look as if babies are just lying there, doing nothing. If we were trapped on our backs or tummies on the floor, we’d be bored out of our minds, so we might assume our babies are also. Even when a baby is content, we often intervene. We attract their attention to something. We interrupt whatever they were working on. This, if it happened to us, would make us unhappy. And we might learn eventually to rely on others for distraction.

When toddlers seem at loose ends and preschoolers expect us to entertain us, it’s possible to imagine that we might be at fault. We may have trained our babies that thinking deep thoughts on one’s own isn’t enough.

So here are some quick tips:

  1. Let content babies be. Just like letting sleeping dogs lie and not fixing something that’s not broken, we should check our impulse to insert ourselves into our little children’s lives. If they are happy, they don’t need us.
  2. Keep babies away from electronic media. The easiest way to do that is to keep televisions, radios and computerized entertainment turned off. These things distract you too, you know. If the silence presses on you, turn on music, any music you like. But never, ever park a baby in front of a screen and keep your handhelds out of the hands of your toddlers.
  3. Choose un-noisy toys without a lot of blinking. Watch what children play with. They play with what researchers have called “loose parts” – the boxes things come in, paper tubes, cloth, and odd bits. They also play longest with toys that do nothing on their own.  Just because Grandma gifted baby with a loud, obnoxious toy isn’t a reason to let it get in the way of your child’s thinking.
  4. Make certain your baby has interesting things to look at and do on his own. To gaze out the window, a baby has to be near a window. To feel the breeze on his face, a baby has to be outdoors. Mobile infants and toddlers need places to play that are safe for them, without a lot of restrictions or reprimands.

Keep in mind that there’s a line here. While you want to let your young child to explore and consider and think without interruption from you, you don’t want your baby to feel abandoned. No one is suggesting that you plop a baby on a mat and walk away without another thought. But responsive parenting isn’t intrusive parenting. It’s about the child, not about you.

Secure attachment arises, not from being the center of the parental Universe but from being respected as a worthy human being. Respect means having one’s distress calls answered quickly and lovingly. But respect also means being allowed the space and freedom to think and to do.

Notice and value what your baby is doing. Be careful not to interrupt.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at