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Should I step in when my baby is struggling with a new task?
It can be tough for parents to resist the temptation to interfere with baby's 'work.' But it's crucial for baby's development. For example, if you see those chubby little hands trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, try to keep yourself from demonstrating the 'right way' to do it. It's hard to watch your baby struggle, but consider it an opportunity to watch baby learn and develop problem-solving skills that will last a lifetime. If you always step in to help, it will take longer for baby to feel confident and accomplished without it. Baby might become a young child, unwilling to try new activities or develop new skills unless you're involved. As long as toys are safe and age-appropriate, it's important to let your child work through challenges.

So be a coach, be an encourager, but let your child be the one to find a satisfying solution. Eventually, baby will prevail, and you'll be rewarded with that unmistakable expression of 'I did it!' on your baby's face.

On the other hand, if baby becomes frustrated or overwhelmed, it may be time to step in. Try to find a way to help your baby without actually solving the problem. If your baby is not ready to crawl but desperate to get the toy, you might want to move the toy a little closer so baby can rock back and forth until the toy is within reach. Or your little pre-crawler might surprise you with an innovative solution: pulling the blanket beneath the toy in an effort to get the toy to come to both of you!

Another way to help is to briefly demonstrate. For example, if baby tries to stack a couple of blocks to make a tower, they may keep sliding off or falling because the top one is slightly askew. Show how you would approach the problem, and then give your baby a turn to try it out. After a few tries, success! Watching your baby problem-solve without help will make you feel proud.

Because baby can't distinguish between a desirable skill (such as keeping food on the plate) and an undesirable one (like pulling off clothes at the wrong time) a sense of humor is a parent's best friend. You want a clean floor, of course, but at the same time you don't want to dampen your baby's delightful curiosity and drive to learn. Be prepared to rearrange the house in order not to stifle baby's exploration and urge to discover.

But keep baby's safety paramount: Your little problem solver might try to figure out how to work the VCR or open the bathroom cabinet, so be scrupulous about babyproofing. And remember, even the most carefully babyproofed house doesn't replace adult supervision. You'll be amazed at how quickly babies can get into things!
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education