Learning Begins At Birth

If you have ever visited a parenting message board, you’ll be familiar with these questions:

  • At what age is it okay to start sleep training?
  • When should you potty train your toddler?
  • At what age should children learn to read?
  • When do you lay down the law when it comes to table manners?


Many people will offer answers to these questions – the so-called “experts” who write parenting books, the other parents on message board, your mother, your sister, and your best friend.

My answer to these questions, and the reason I don’t get stressed about these things, is that parents should start teaching their children these things at birth and their children will respond when they are ready. Going from diapers to underwear, from being rocked to sleep to going to bed on your own, from throwing the food off the high chair tray to using a fork and knife correctly, none of those are things that happen suddenly or abruptly.

  • Potty learning begins at birth, by doing elimination communication or by changing your baby’s diaper immediately when it is wet or dirty, by talking about bodily functions, and by letting them see you use the toilet.
  • Sleep training begins at birth by creating an environment that is conducive to sleep and being consistent in your bedtime routine.
  • Language training begins at birth by speaking to your child even when they cannot understand you and if possible having one parent or other family member speak to the child in a second language.
  • Manners training begins at birth by saying please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, gesundheit and other niceties to and in front of your baby.
  • Literacy training begins at birth by reading to your baby and reading in front of your baby.
  • Empathy training begins at birth by demonstrating compassion to your baby and to others.


Some children will pick up some of these things more quickly than others and that is just the way that life goes. Just as some people excel in math and others in sports, some babies will sleep early and speak late, or sleep late and speak early. Some may be ahead of the curve on everything, making the parents feel competent, only to have them thrown off by a second baby who is completely different.

Start at birth. Be patient. Trust the process. Listen to your child, not to the books and not the calendar.

How have you helped your child along the natural path of learning?

Published on: June 03, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Annie
Annie has been blogging about the art and science of parenting on the PhD in Parenting Blog since May 2008. She is a social, political and consumer advocate on issues of importance to parents, women and children.
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