|“Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be. Such experience is not just play…it is work he must do in order to grow up.”
In November, we were pleased to host AMI trainer Karey Lontz for an evening for parents entitled Making Behaviors Work (Redirecting Challenging Behaviors into Productive Work at Home and School). Karey is an AMI examiner, AMI consultant and an adjunct professor at Loyola University in Maryland. With a background in both 0-3 and 3-6 level Montessori training and a Masters in Montessori Education from Loyola, Karey had much experience and wisdom to share with our families.
Karey’s presentation helped parents understand why children sometimes act in ways that are difficult for adults, and what to do about it.
Dr. Montessori’s decades of observing children taught her that when children are fully absorbed in something, challenging behaviors subside. Thus, purposeful and engaging work is the answer to preventing and redirecting difficult behaviors.
Karen explained that often, challenging behavior is the result of a disruption in concentration. Therefore, we should do our best to avoid intervening unless a child’s action:
- is harming someone else
- is harming her or himself
- is harming a material
This can be difficult for us as adults. Because we enjoy engaging with children, when we see them focused on something, we might naturally ask, “What are you doing?” Additionally, we might not be aware of how disruptive it can be to a child when we interrupt them to move on to the next thing. What looks like playing or daydreaming to us can be highly interesting, and even important, to our children.
Karey’s advice for interrupting a child’s activity: When in doubt, stay out!
Of course, we have deadlines to meet and schedules to honor. So, how can we encourage a more harmonious transition when it’s almost time to move on? Take some time to observe your child and, when possible, look for a good stopping point. Then, give a warning: you can practice putting your shoes on once more, and then it will be time to go to the store!”
In addition to having their concentration interrupted, the three other causes of challenging behaviors are:
- inhibiting the child’s need for movement
- substituting the adult’s choice for the child’s
There is one main cure: purposeful work.
Purposeful work allows for movement, creates a connection between the child and the adult by demonstrating to the child that we understand her or his needs, and giving the child choice in activity.
Of course, practicing these principles in real life is not as easy as it sounds. Having this sort of presence of mind, moment to moment, requires us to engage in an ongoing process of personal transformation. That is our work, as adults, and in order to stick with that, we need to take very good care of ourselves! Investing in self-care and choosing to be compassionate with ourselves can help us to relax with our children more often, instead of reacting out of old patterns.
Karey left us with a few final tips for supporting positive behaviors in our children:
- Allow choice within reasonable limits. For example, “Would you like an apple or some almonds for a snack?” (Don’t offer the donut if that isn’t a choice you support right now).
- Encourage rather than praise. “You did it!” “I know it’s hard—you can do it!” or “Let’s do it together!”
- Model grace and courtesy. The child under six years old is still in the period Dr. Montessori called The Absorbent Mind; everything she sees and hears becomes part of her. Say please and thank you to her and to others. Show her how you hope she will be.
- Allow independence within developmentally appropriate limits. Your child is capable of more than you realize. Break the problem down into smaller steps if necessary, in order to help him be successful.
- Look for the yes. Karey talked about this as avoiding “no;” however, once in a while, especially as children get older, “no” is the only appropriate response. To avoid confusion, we’re renaming this tip “look for the yes” (whenever possible). So when your child asks “Will you play with me?” and you can’t right now, instead of saying “no,” you can say “yes, I will play with you when I finish these dishes! Would you like to help me clean up, or go kick the ball outside until I am ready to join you?” [Please note, as children begin to develop reason around 3 ½ to 4 years of age, it is absolutely acceptable and reasonable to say no, with an explanation. For instance, “We can’t play a game right now because it’s time to go to bed, but we can do that tomorrow. Let’s go brush our teeth together!”]
- Give consistent limits. Don’t be afraid to set limits. Children have a strong sense of order. They thrive on predictability and routine.
Want more Montessori parenting advice? Sign up for Ms. Maria and Ms. Heather’s new parenting class this semester! Stay tuned for details.