I’m not sure where we got our insistence that our child tell the truth upon demand, but we parents have it. It’s something worth thinking about because not telling the truth does come so easily to our children whether we like it or not.
Truth is a complicated idea because it is clouded with our opinions and our intake of information, our sources for that information, and our almost burning desire to know, in this case to know if our child is in fact telling us The Truth.
There may be a difference between Truth and The Truth, but again, it’s complicated. Truth is something we all philosophically seek while The Truth is something we believe exists and someone has it.
As parents, what we desperately want from our children is The Truth, as in “telling The Truth,” or more simply as in telling me, your parent, what you did and what all happened. And herein lies our dilemma. Our child knows only his or her truth. He may believe totally in the veracity of his truth, but it may, despite the child’s good intentions, simply be the child’s truth but not The Truth. It may be what the child truly believes happened, but that may not be accurate or really truthful. So the first problem that faces us when we’re seeking The Truth from our child is that by asking or even demanding that our child tell The Truth, is that his truth may be truthful to him, but not true to all observers or participants. It’s his truth but not the universal truth.
The second complicating factor is that the child may have a handle on what he did but because he now realizes it was not something of which to be proud, he does not want to tell you his truth. And to further frustrate us, the child knows that because we don’t know what really happened, he can save himself by telling us something that exonerates him. We know this, too, so we try to get the child to tell us The Truth by bargaining. We tell him things like, “I need to know what happened (The Truth) so that I can help you solve this problem and not get into trouble. I can’t help you if you lie to me. You won’t be in any trouble if you tell The Truth.”
And the final aspect of this dilemma is that we are operating under our own set of illusions, too. We believe our own version of The Truth and therefore we know when to believe our child. It is our truth that tells us that we can tell when our child is lying. Again, that is our truth, but not the universal truth. For The Truth is that we cannot accurately tell when our child is lying!
Studies about truth telling show us that chance gives us a 50-50 possibility of being able to tell if a child is truthful. So how do parents hold up against chance in being able to tell if the child is truthful? Parents are no better than chance, 50-50. You may not believe this because you may think you can tell if your child is telling the truth or not, but in reality you can’t. You’re only as good as chance is.
Oh, a child may feel anxious or uncomfortable when lying to us, but he’s so good at it that we can’t detect it even if we think we can. Remember, we are no better at this than chance is or 50/50. The physical signs that indicate the child is willfully not being truthful are not apparent to the naked eye. For example, when a child lies, his cheeks cool and his nose warms. Special cameras can detect this but not our eyes.
To further complicate our problem is that our children have been practicing avoiding The Truth for years! He learned how to lie somewhere between the ages of 2 and 4 years. He also learned the power of these lies by recognizing that because we didn’t really know The Truth, and he did; he had all the power over the portrayal of The Truth. The child learned how to demonstrate what we thought was honesty with facial expressions and quiet and calm words, and a level of persistence in repeating the story.
Now that you have been confronted with The Truth about children lying, what can your strategy be to encourage your child to be boldly truthful? My suggestion to you is to stop asking him if he is telling The Truth. Second, don’t punish or get mad if you discover that he is lying. In other words, don’t give so much emphasis to The Truth, and instead give your efforts in trying to discover what your child’s problem is that causes him to hide The Truth from you. Of what is he afraid? When you discover that, then you can approach The Truth fearlessly. And you can create a home where children aren’t afraid to make mistakes but are willing to tell the truth about them.
I’m not an avid reader of the Harvard Business Review, but I came upon an article in the July 1985 issue that caught me. It was titled “Discipline without Punishment: A Best Practices Approach to Disciplining Employees.” I read the first line and was hooked for the next 22 pages. The article was about Tampa Electric’s decision to switch to a non-punitive approach to discipline, something our school has been working on, which I was curious to see that corporate America was, too! But for now, let’s just consider children.
How can it be possible for children to learn how to behave if they don’t get punished? How will they learn the lessons of good behavior without a little sting from some discipline enacted by the caring adults? Forgoing punitive discipline lets kids get away with bad behavior, we believe. Without punitive discipline, kids become spoiled, we fear. Finally, punishments are something we all believe in, something we seldom question.
I lived and worked in California for five years where I taught first and second grades in public schools, and was also a math consultant to an inner city public elementary school in Oakland. The year was 1967. In those days California was a progressive state with what seemed like lots of money for public school education. They had recently been working with an innovation, which failed. They had made huge classrooms for 100 students (four classes) by taking out walls. Instead of each of the four teachers teaching three groups of reading, they divided the entire 100 into four reading classes, and each teacher only taught one class, one preparation, one set of papers to grade. It seemed then like a good idea, conservation of the teacher’s time and efforts. However, no one considered how difficult it would be to manage 100 six year olds in a gymnasium-sized space. So when I got hired, they were deconstructing the “pod” classrooms and putting the walls back in to the buildings.
Fast forward five years and I returned to Bradenton to live. I found Manatee County was unaware of what had been learned in California and upon hearing about “pods” were busy taking walls out of their elementary schools, creating huge classrooms for 100 students and four teachers. Predictably, their lesson was the same as in California, and so after a few years the walls returned to the classrooms here. I watched this happen with disbelief. How could this have happened? Doesn’t the right hand know what the left hand does?
But the truth was that each system was acting on their own assumptions of what they thought would work without using any evidence. And that, my dear parents, is what we all too often do. We ignore what is true because it doesn’t fit with our beliefs.
Let’s get back to discipline and children. Most of us believe that children need to suffer some form of punishment in order to learn the lesson. Punishments run the gamut from being sent to one’s room to being spanked. Children soon discover we’re in charge, and they learn to avoid giving us the whole story for fear of punishment. We end up punishing our children based on what we think has happened. Our children don’t reason that they deserved the punishment and thank us for administering it. Rather they go to their rooms with anger against us and a determination not to get caught the next time. They think they were mistreated by us, and they feel wrongly maligned. They do not say to themselves, “I learned my lessons. I’m glad my parents punished me because it taught me the lesson.”
And in fact research has shown that punishment doesn’t work. But we neither read the research nor do we believe this research.
None-the-less, for a moment just imagine that you are going to try something else when it comes to correcting your child’s misbehavior. You are not going to punish your child, but you are going to do something else instead. You are going to teach your child how to find solutions to his problems, which too often result in his misbehavior.
Here’s the outline of action:
Wait until you and your child are not mad and have calmed down.
Say non-accusatory statements like:
“Gee, you seem really upset at John.”
“Yeah, I am. He always tries to get me in trouble.”
“Oh, what does he do?”
“He tells on me for nothing.”
“What do you mean, nothing? Looks like he makes you mad.”
“Yeah, he makes me real mad.”
“Is that why you hit him?”
“Yeah, he was going to trip me so I hit him so he couldn’t do that.”
“How did that work for you?”
“Well, not that well.”
“Let’s rethink the problem and see if we can come up with a better solution, one that works for you and one you don’t get in trouble for doing.”
This is how we begin. Notice, we don’t take sides, we don’t accuse either child, we don’t judge any behavior. But we do address it and we are trying to teach the child how to make better decisions, how to deal with issues peacefully without resorting to fighting. If we don’t think of these times as teaching moments, we will find that when children have poor problem-solving skills, they resort to poor decisions that only make the situations worse. They’re not trying to be misbehaving; they just aren’t skilled yet.
Misbehavior means something, and it deserves adults taking time to teach children how to act better. Will this work magic? Will tempers get under control right away? No, it takes time and lots of patience and some parenting instruction! But it can be the start of really teaching children how to behave better and how to solve problems peacefully without hurting them or your relationship with them.
You might have asked yourself the question, “Why are children grouped by multiple ages in a Montessori school when all other schools put children of the same age in one classroom?”
Maria Montessori was a very perceptive person. She was able to observe that children exhibited certain characteristics across a range of ages. As she observed this, she created what is known to us Montessorians as the “planes of development”. These stages of development are still observed today by Montessori educators and many psychologists as well. Childhood is divided into six-year groups and each group is called a plane.
Imagine a horizontal line crossing this page with an equilateral triangle sitting on that line. Then trace with your finger on the triangle starting at the left vertex and going away from the horizontal line. This ascent represents birth to 3 years. Then trace the line back down to the horizontal line. This decent represents 3 years to 6 years of age. This is the first plane of development, and young children from birth to six are in this plane with toddlers being on the first part and primary children being on the second part. The next plane of development is again a triangle sitting on the horizontal line next to the first triangle. This ascent is 6 to 9 years and the descent is 9 to 12 years. The third triangle sitting on the line represents 12 to 15 years and 15 to 18 years. These triangles go on to adult life. But once you see these triangles representing the stages of life you can begin to understand why we group children in multiple ages in our classrooms.
Within each plane of development, children of those ages share common sensitivities to learning. Therefore, if a child has a sensitivity to order, for example, we want to teach him how to order his environment while he’s sensitive to that lesson. In fact, this sensitivity is true for the first stage of development, 3 to 6 years, which is why in the primary classrooms each material is always kept in the same place on a shelf and never in a cluttered toy box. 6 to 12-year-old children are sensitive to order too but not physical order. They don’t care as much if their rooms are neat or not, but they care a lot if justice is ordered equally. They are sensitive to moral order, which is why we work on teaching children in this plane how to solve problems.
If we look around our own social settings we see that we never lived in singular age groups except when we’re in school. We group ourselves according to our interests, not according to our ages. In Montessori schools we group children according to the planes of development so that we can teach them what they are ready and interested to learn. There are many benefits to this. One obvious one is that children do not need to adjust to a new school classroom and teacher every year. Another is that older children can help younger ones. Children can see what’s ahead. And children can benefit from a wider diversity of educational materials in the classroom.
Perfect parenting shouldn’t be our goal. It’s difficult to be a perfect parent. No, it’s impossible. It means you would provide a great example, a perfect one for your child, never getting angry or losing your temper, raising your voice, or critizing your child. It means you would be kind, considerate, and loving of your child at all times. It’s a wonderful ambition, but try as you might you cannot be a perfect parent. And it’s no wonder. You’ve come to this job in your life so poorly trained. In fact, what you bring to this job is a lack of experience and a lack of training. All you really have is a set of old parenting tapes of what was done to you by your parents as they raised you. Not only are these tapes old and out of date, but you have trouble accurately accessing them because you were young for much of their taping and have a childish view of them in addition to a somewhat faulty childhood memory. The usual way you access these tapes is through your unanalyzed behavior. The information on these tapes appears to you without warning and without your requesting it. One moment you surprise yourself by either what you say or do to your child and you find yourself thinking to your self, “I’m getting like my mom ,” or “I’m acting like my dad. Where did that come from? ”
Well, it came from you as a small child. You did then just what your child does now. You watched and observed your parents so closely – but not analytically, rather in a copying way – so closely that you were able to make an exact copy of their behavior, the perfect copy cat you were just as your child is now. But remember what you weren’t was analytical. You didn’t realize then that your dad had gotten a poor evaluation that day or that your mom was upset because her hourly wage was less than her fellow worker’s. You didn’t know your behavior that day would irritate them so much that they would yell at you. But you heard their voice coming out of your mouth the other day, and you felt guilty, yet surprised and somewhat baffled.
It’s hard to be just a perfect parent because of our lack of training. Don’t discourage yourself; just accept it. Then read, study, attend parenting classes, and educate yourself to be a better parent. That’s doable!
My children were little when the “Pop Ups” appeared on NBC television on Saturday mornings, sandwiched in between cartoons. It was Dr. Gattegno’s idea that many children could be taught to read rather effortlessly by watching these randomly selected minutes of animated letters. He had observed how interested children were in commercials, perhaps even more interested than in the programs they interrupted. He had noticed that children would watch a commercial until they mastered it and then lose interest in that commercial and watch and learn another, master it, lose interest and move on to the next one, and so on. That gave him the idea that the children could direct their own learning to read by watching commercial type reading lessons. He created 18 one-minute animated reading offerings which were so clever that children saw their similarity to commercials and immediately focused their attention on them. An unknown number of children taught themselves to read in this manner.
Almost 30 years have passed since the creation of the “Pop Ups.” Probably few copies of those 18 minutes still exist, but our school is fortunate enough to still have them. We have used them to teach our 4- and 5-year-old children since our school began in 1976. We use all of Dr. Gattegno’s Words in Color materials: the charts, the primers, the worksheets, and the “Pop Ups.” We have also created our own hands-on materials for the young children. We have colored letters that are cut outs which the little children can use to write words and sentences since writing with pencils is challenging for 4 year olds. We have written many little booklets for the children to read. We have created even more gap games and transformations.
I remember early on talking to Dr. Gattegno about additional reading materials. One question was, “Couldn’t there be more booklets for them to read as they moved through the restricted signs and sounds of Words in Color?” Also I wondered what about more written work assignments for the children? Other programs have so much of this additional stuff.
His answer was that it was the work of each teacher to create whatever else she felt her children could use to enhance their learning. He always had high expectations for teachers. I appreciated that about him.
A few weeks ago I observed two four-year olds working with the little cut-out colored letters. They had formed and were reading “ta, tu, ti, te, to” and then quickly “tap, tip, top.” The chart with the colored rectangles was on the wall and beside it was the first wall chart. Other children were gathered around the wall chart and were pointing to words they could read, “up, pup, pop, pat, pit,…” and so on. It was fun to watch such young children learning to read in a game-like fashion that was void of competition or pressure to perform. I felt like in this lesson the children were safe, safe to learn with the skills they had mastered as babies learning to speak their native tongues. These mental skills of young learners Dr. Gattegno recognized as “the powers of the mind.” So here I was watching children making use of their powers of their minds – transformations, stressing and ignoring, their will, imagery, feed back, and relativity. They were already competent learners when they came to school, and now at our school they were permitted to use their competence in teaching themselves the next lessons, those of learning how to read.
At our school we continue to believe it is indeed every child’s birthright to learn how to read. We are doing all we can to bring this reality to our students. This is our commitment. So now you can visit our web site and watch our new reading video. Notice how confident the children are, how relaxed and willing to share their reading skills. Notice too how it appears they like what they are doing. What could be better than a school that knows how to teach children.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher