by Tammia Streuber
Maria Montessori wrote, “The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.”
If we adhere to these powerful words of Montessori then we are to believe that our young infants and toddlers are absorbing all that is around them, and are really creating a version of their future selves. If we want these future selves to be emotionally mature beings who have empathy for others and aren’t afraid to express themselves then it is our job to teach these children how to identify and respond to these emotions, and maybe most importantly of all that it is ok to express and have these feelings.
Talk About the Emotions
Labeling how your child is feeling in the moment may be one of the most helpful tools in learning about emotions. It allows the child to have a real example of what it means to be sad, frustrated, or even angry. When we put the words, “I see that you’re sad,” or “I know it’s frustrating” into context with their tears or angry outbursts we are helping them understand what is going on inside of their body. The words sad or frustrated begin to have a context and meaning apart from just being a word that adults use. It gives these children a way to eventually start discussing their feelings with others.
Not only is labeling a child’s emotions helpful, but we can also label our own feelings for children. When we lock our keys in the car and have a moment of frustration that could lead into a not so pleasant expression of words; we can think twice and say, “I’m so frustrated.” It’s OK for our children to see our vulnerable expressions of feelings. It again puts a context to the words and makes it more real for the child. Saying, “I’m sad right now. I can feel the tears on my face,” may be exactly what your child needs to see and hear to know what sadness means.
Go beyond just labeling emotions, and let your child know that it’s normal and OK to express their emotions. We want to create humans who are in touch with this side of themselves, and don’t hesitate to let others know how they are feeling. When your child is throwing themselves on the floor because they didn’t get that toy they wanted; feel free to say, “I see that you’re angry right now. It’s OK to feel that way. I get angry sometimes too.” The simple words of “it’s OK to feel that way” may be the magical words that stop the tantrum.
Most importantly they are the magical words that your child will remember when they are the adult who may be feeling angry, and instead of bottling up these emotions they will be able to express them in a healthy way.
At the infant and toddler level we need to remember to keep our responses simple and to the point. Once we’ve labeled and empathized with our child then we can give some words and directions that will hopefully help our child self-sooth and manage their emotions. Taking a deep breath and exhaling can often work wonders for the child who is very upset. This moment of taking a breath often relaxes their body in a way that very few things can, and lets them begin to focus on what comes next.
When taking a breath doesn’t work we can also offer the option of needing some time and space. It’s ok to tell your child that it looks like they need some space, and slowly step back to give them the time and space they need to work through their emotions. Not all emotions have an easy resolution, and sometimes the best thing is to allow the toddler to feel the emotions and let it pass. Other times asking them if they need something or asking them if they would like a hug is a sign of respecting them but offering a tangible connection they may need to work through their emotions.
Dealing with emotions is not always an easy thing to do. However, the work you put in now will only help to benefit your child’s future self!
Tammia Streuber is MCH's Lead Teacher in the Infant/Toddler Program. You can reach her here.
by Angela Spayde
It turns out, hugs are more important than candy.
As the children walked down the hallways of Aegis, trick-or-treating at the doors of residents (one of whom was 101 years old!), we ran into Betty taking a stroll on her way to the dining hall. Betty didn’t have any candy to give out at the moment and asked the children if they would like hugs instead. As almost all of the children lined up to give Betty hug after hug, tears streamed out of Betty’s eyes as she joyfully embraced each child and chaperone. She explained how her children were all grown, and that she doesn’t get to see children much anymore.
This first verse from a William Blake poem feels like a nice way to describe what took place at Aegis that day:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Over the last few years, MCH and the Aegis community have established a growing relationship. Aegis is a local assisted living community that serves memory care patients. This year we have partnered with Aegis Redmond, and we couldn’t be more excited. Once a month, residents come to our campus to participate in various activities in our Early Childhood classrooms. Our elementary students are also visiting their community once a month.
This intergenerational connection is invaluable. The young, the old, and the in between are making lasting connections, and it’s impacting both of our communities in beautiful ways.
Angela Spayde is the Student Support Director at MCH. You can reach her here.
by Joan Dietrich
The goal of raising an independent, capable child without encountering endless power struggles on the way is an age-old dilemma for parents.
One of the prime goals in a Montessori education is to foster independence and critical thinking skills in each child. Sometimes, though, successes teachers see at school don’t necessarily translate in the home.
One of the most frequently raised concerns in my own years as a Montessori guide have centered around the goal of fostering greater independence in the home. A recent talk led by our wonderful consultant, Jonathan Wolff, opened up a great dialogue on the topic. I’d like to share some practical ideas for helping your child to develop those great skills at home.
1.) To strategize getting out the door, try selecting clothes the night before.
I know very well how difficult it can be, for example, to get out the door on time in the morning, and how tempting it can be to do things for your child in order to be on time. My daughter and I commuted together every day for seven years, and I remember, red-faced, grabbing all of her items to just get in the car and go, darn it! Her seven years of Montessori education, fortunately, were enough to overcome some of those tough moments and I am happy to report that she is an independent and capable person today.
Check the weather forecast together, and have some practical clothing suggestions at hand (ideally, a choice of two or three items) when the selected clothes are, say, a tutu and water shoes for a cold, rainy day! Lay out the clothes with the agreement that this is what will be worn tomorrow. If your child changes their mind in the morning, try having a set agreement that the second preferred outfit can be worn tomorrow instead.
Jackets hung on hooks at your child’s height will help them to remember to grab them before you leave. When you’re shopping for a winter coat, try, if you can, to test out the zipper. Not all zippers are made alike, and some can be challenging for small children to fasten. See whether your child can zip themselves, if you help them to place the pin in the channel first. Until they have learned to tie their own shoes, Velcro-strapped shoes are ideal for small hands to master.
2.) In the kitchen, try providing a cupboard or shelf space that is at your child’s height.
Stock it with cups and bowls that are just their size. In the refrigerator, a shelf or drawer that is stocked with snacks that they can access whenever “hangry” moments loom can allow them to tend to their own needs. Fruit, vegetables, and something protein-rich like hummus or cheese all stave off cravings well without taking an appetite for dinner away completely.
You could take the snack preparation a step further by having your child help to prepare snacks. Food preparation is a familiar activity in just about any classroom. Keep a small pitcher of water in your refrigerator from which your child can pour their own drinks. When it’s possible, have your child help to prepare meals by washing produce, tearing greens, or setting the table.
3.) Show them how to clear the dishes from the table, and have them assist in the process whenever possible.
Montessori children learn to care for their classroom, taking ownership in a place that is theirs. Introducing the language of caring for your home together, because it is theirs as much as yours, will help them to invest in chores like sorting laundry, tidying their toys, or putting away their clothes.
None of these suggestions are a magical fix, and mastery of any skill by your child is often accompanied by an apparent backsliding in some other skill that they once had. Parenting is never a linear process! However, the more ways you can involve your child in the day-to-day tasks of running your home, the more invested they become in caring for it themselves, and the more independence you will gradually foster in your child.
Joan Dietrich is MCH's Early Childhood Curriculum Coordinator. You can reach her here.