Attributing Intelligence to Babies

Petra - posted on 10/08/2010 ( 14 moms have responded )




I happened upon a thread on the Welcome page about getting a baby to sleep, through the night and on their own, in a crib. A lot of the responses had to do with the idea that "babies are smart" and are attempting to manipulate their parents with night-time crying and not wanting to sleep on their own and/or in their cribs. The responses varied in their attribution of this assumed intelligence - at 3, 6, 9, 12+ months.

I want to make it clear that I am not talking about sleep-training or cry-it-out, but rather the notion that babies have the capacity and the intelligence to understand what is happening, and possibly what you are saying to them, and can put two-and-two together on their own.

Since you ladies seem to be a sensible and well-rounded bunch, I thought I would bring the issue here and get some good debate and thoughtful input. So my question is: Do you think that babies are smarter than we give them credit for? If so, at what age do you think they "know" what is expected of them and that they can understand why we have these expectations?


Charlie - posted on 10/08/2010




Babies do not manipulate that implies they are concious of what they are doing and what goals they are trying to acheive , NO , thats not possible , a young newborn , like Sharon said , acts on insticnt and learns over time cause and effect BEFORE being able to use it to their advantage .

Personally i think people put far to much expectation on children to have adult attributes.

Caitlin - posted on 10/08/2010




Kids are pretty darned smart, so it wouldn't surprise me that babies are too, but manipulation in my opinion can only happen when the child, baby or whatever you want to call them sees themself as a seperate entity, which developmentally occurs around 18 months (as far as I remember..) Before that, they see themselves as a part of you (the paint spot on the forhead test in the mirror thing facinated me).

Before 18 months of so, you should be building trust, not telling yourself they are manipulating you. They may be testing you, they want to know that even if you are out of sight, you will come to them if they need you, so they will cry just to test you, and they will cry if they are sad/hungry/cold/warm because they know you will come to them, but that is NOT manipulation, it is building TRUST!

Tara - posted on 10/08/2010




I do think babies are smarter than most people give them credit for (at least my babies are ;) lol )
But I DO NOT think that babies are capable of manipulating their parents. That type of intelligence is different than say being able to recognize certain phrases, or being able to find things they have lost, or being able to tune into others emotions, or being able to remember things from day to day and solve problems on their own such as how to open things etc.
This type of intelligence is completely different from the kind that is required for manipulative behaviours, also I've heard parents say their babies give them guilt trips on purpose. That is all BS in my opinion.
Cop out really.

This conversation has been closed to further comments


View replies by

Stifler's - posted on 10/09/2010




Babies can't manipulate people. They understand our tones, because 90% of communication is non verbal it makes sense that they'd understand this kind of communication before verbal. I do believe they can attention seek though, like there is nothing physically hurting them and they're not hungry they just want cuddles/attention.

Jodi - posted on 10/08/2010




I think Laureen took the thought right out of my head! They learn that if they do this...this happens, cause and effect. As for knowing our expectations...not until the toddler years, WHY we have those expecations...well, it wasn't until I had my first child why my mother expected certain things out of me!!!! lol But probably doesn't start until the school aged years I would say.

ME - posted on 10/08/2010



193 2 1/2 year old...yes ("5 books mommy" "I need a drink now mommy" "one more book please" "sing me a song now mommy"; he knows I eat that shit up!)...much younger than, I don't think so...

Sharon - posted on 10/08/2010




I claim bullshit. My cat is capable of manipulation. But infants are operating on instinct.

Lucy - posted on 10/08/2010




Sure, babies understand all sorts of stuff that we don't realise at the time. They're like little sponges, just soaking everything up! But the idea that a baby can deliberately manipulate is a bit daft.

Manipulation is quite a complex and subtle learnt behaviour, not something a baby has had the chance to hone by a few months old!

[deleted account]

Manipulation can happen if you let it without the child realizing that that's what they're doing. I think a child has to be much older to actually be aware and conscious that they're trying to manipulate.

[deleted account]

I agree with all you intelligent ladies. I think Caitlin has the right idea about when they start to understand those types of things better. I would say around 18 months is really when I noticed Roxanne being able to understand things in a new capacity. She was also talking by then so it made it much easier to know what she was thinking a lot of the time. I don't however, think she understood how to manipulate. I still don't believe, at almost 25 months, that she completely understands what it is to manipulate.

JuLeah - posted on 10/08/2010




Smart is not a very accurate term. Humans figure out early in life that they can make things happen. I push the blocks, they fall over.

Babys' figure out that if they cry, someone comes

But, they figure that out because to cry is a basic instinct and when they cry, someone comes. They learn over time to trust that process. And, yes, kids to learn over time to use that to their advantage, but at 3 months? No, not in my opinion. At 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, they are still learning to trust the process.

Babies are born with an ability to 'read people' they tune into faces, pick up on tone of voice .... we are wired that way, so I don't really think it is about smarts. This ability does assist in their surival however.

Babies do know and understand more then we often given them credit for, but to really maupliate, you need to be able to think abstract, and babies don't really do that.

Just my opinion

Jessica - posted on 10/08/2010




I agree with PPs. I do think a lot of the time that babies are smarter and understand more than we think. But I like the way Tara put it- that is a different type of intelligence than learning to "manipulate" you. That requires a lot more complex thought, not to mention the realization that they are in fact separate entities- which babies are just not capable of. The first year-year and a half it is most important to build trust. It is fascinating to watch my 15 month old learn new things every day, to see how much he understands around him, and certainly he can be difficult at times... but I wouldn't say he's ever tried to manipulate me! That's silly. If he cries its because he needs something or is simply trying to express something he can't otherwise.

Krista - posted on 10/08/2010




I honestly don't think babies can manipulate people when they're that young. At the most, they might be doing cause-effect experimentation..."if I do X, then Y happens. Huh. I wonder if that'll happen if I do X again. Well lookit that! It does! Neat!" If a baby cries when being put to bed, it's not 'cause he's trying to manipulate his parents -- that's ridiculous. He just is worried that they're gone. People REALLY need to stop projecting their own mind-set onto their children. Their little brains work VERY differently from our own, so their reasons for doing something could be 180 degrees away from what WE think their reasons are.

Join Circle of Moms

Sign up for Circle of Moms and be a part of this community! Membership is just one click away.

Join Circle of Moms