Last week, Sarah and I hosted a workshop “Living Your Life the Montessori Way.” We had an open discussion about handling those “moments” with your children that correlates with what we do at school. We say it all the time…Montessori is a way of life, not necessarily a philosophy exclusive to school.
Before getting into scenarios, we covered 3 important concepts to practice when dealing with any interaction with your child. Preparation, respect and follow through.
Before heading into anything with your child (especially if it is a situation that is already a struggle with your child), prepare him ahead of time. When raising my children, I called these “pep talks.” In the pep talk, tell your child exactly what is going to happen “We are going into Target to buy dog food.” Remember to focus on the positive aspects of what is going to happen, this is not the time for threats of misbehaviors…simply focus on what you expect in a positive way. Give those expectations clearly and directly: “You can walk beside the cart or ride in the cart.” This is also the opportunity to set limits and boundaries. If your child enters Target and begins to walk away from you and the cart, you can remind him “You can walk beside the cart or ride in the cart.” If he walks away again, you would move into your follow through (see below).
When there is a transition involved with your child (cleaning up to eat dinner, leaving the park, finishing an art project), give him time warnings. No one enjoys stopping their work at the drop of a hat without notice…your child is the same. “Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes. It will be time to clean up the toys soon.” Your child may not have the concept of time yet, but you will be reminding him throughout the 10 minutes.
When you give your child the opportunity to understand what is to come and give him the grace and time to process it, you are showing your child respect. We expect respect FROM our child, but we also offer respect TO our child. The simplest way to do this is through modeling respect. If your child has thrown his socks on the floor in response to putting them on, you can say “please hand me your socks” and “thank you for handing me your socks.” This simple addition of manners, models for your child the importance of treating others with respect.
In the same regards, expect this from your child. When exiting the classroom holding his lunchbox and belongings, we often see children thrust these things at their parents. It is appropriate to help them, but that is not the respectful way for the child to get help. Take the time to say to your child “would you like some help carrying your things?” Then expect an appropriate answer: “yes, please” or “will you please help me?”
Another way to respect your child is through acknowledging his emotions. By simply saying “you are upset,” you are showing your child that you understand them. You can label the emotion (without projecting what you think they may be feeling).
Follow through is by far the most important part of these interactions…and often times the most difficult for parents. Janet Lansbury says “Parents sometimes fear they will crush a child’s spirit if they are firm and consistent about rules. Truthfully, it is the other way around. A child does not feel free unless boundaries are clearly established.” The child is looking at you to be the decisive leader in situations. Although their actions may speak otherwise, crying or resisting your limit, they are really looking to you to be in control.
Children are going through a sensitive period for order during this time, providing consistency helps with this sense of order. When you set a limit, make sure it is one that you are willing to follow through with. To quote Dr Suess “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” To return to the Target example, if your child walks away from you after you have set the limit, you will need to follow through with that limit. You will place your child in the cart, reminding him “Your choices were to walk by the cart or to ride in the cart.” If you have this expectation every time you are in a store and follow through consistently with it, your child will understand this limit (as well as others) much quicker. As soon as you go back on a limit that has been set, you go back to square one with the previous limits that were set.
The time put into these “moments” now with your child can be challenging, but know that you are establishing a relationship that will serve both of you well in the future.
“Our early parenting choices matter far more than we can imagine in those first months and years of our children’s lives. Our early parenting not only shapes who our children will become but also has a powerful impact on our relationship with our teens. We are, literally, building our relationship with teens while we’re parenting out toddlers and preschoolers. LR Knost