Dearest kids, a word about travel,
We've just crossed from the North Island of New Zealand to its South Island by ferry. It was a 3-hour crossing and now we're on our way via rail to the town of Christchurch where in the very recent past earthquakes ravaged the unsuspecting town.
Thinking of New Zealand as an English country is truly misguided. It's rather part of a Polynesian triangle with Hawaii to the north, Easter island to the east, and New Zealand to the south. With that triangle as the indigenous peoples' travel map, you can quickly recognize New Zealand's geographic location as one of the Polynesia islands. That the British Crown's explorers claimed her only confuses New Zealand's authentic existence in the down under.
Since two of the tectonic plates crash together along New Zealand's South Island shoreline and the ring of fire forms its backbone, it's hard to imagine why early Polynesian voyagers would have wanted to be here. It's even harder to understand why European explorers would have found safety here. But all one has it do is to look around at the majestic beauty of this almost untouched land to know what lured all the voyagers here. The volcanic clues of hot springs and geysers may have been identified as connected to the pagan gods rather than recognized as indicators of the dangers of the moving earth's crust. Further mystifying new arrivals might have been the infrequency of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes making New Zealand's islands seem idyllic in so many other ways.
Separated from Pangea millions of years ago, New Zealand finds itself uniquely housing plants and animals that live nowhere else. The strangeness of a land with only 2 bats as its entire mammal population seems magically appropriate in this Lord of the Rings movie setting. But the pristine nature of New Zealand has been contaminated by many travelers wittingly and unwittingly dropping other species, plants and animals, to find homes in what would never have been their locations.
Kiwis are what the current residents of New Zealand call themselves while we think of the yummy green fruit by that name. And like Americans, those Kiwis represent a real mix of immigrants who easily shed their native lands to assume the Kiwi lifestyle and display a genuine warmness and friendliness to visitors. Outdoors people, Kiwis appreciate their country's physical diversity and untouched spans of rolling hills, winding rivers, sharp mountains, deep valleys, and rocky shores which the blue Pacific protects and almost promises not to pitch those tsunamis other Polynesian countries fear.
Travel is a wonderful way to learn about other places on the planet, its geography and its people. In fact, we as a school, encourage you to travel with your children whenever you can as part of their global education. Don't worry about what they'd be missing at school rather think about what they'd be missing about life if you didn't include them as often as you are able. In fact, I was just playing with my thoughts and I imagined that when the school were to give your child homework for school missed, you might in turn give the school itself homework for what everyone else would be missing by not accompanying you and your child on those educational travels you're taking! Tee hee!
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.
If I were to ask you who discovered America, you would probably answer Christopher Columbus in 1492. If I asked you what was learned by his discovery, you might say that the world was round instead of flat. Well, neither of those answers is correct. There were other far earlier explorers, the Vikings and even the Chinese for example, who had landed on the North American continent centuries before Columbus did. Furthermore, at the time Columbus traveled the educated world knew the world was not flat.
I find it interesting that despite our level of advancement and technology, so many Americans still do not know this history. What does that say about our educational system or our experiences with it?
As a Montessorian I consider myself a non-traditional educator. I no longer believe ideas about education which have been proven wrong even if they are still part of the mainstream body of educational thought.
For me this is easy in a way because my children are already grown and educated, so I don’t need to worry about them getting into a great college or being prepared for a wonderful working career! I’m no longer responsible for their education. But for you all, things are different. You must bear the responsibility for your child’s educational opportunities. I can imagine how challenging it is for you to opt for a non-traditional education for your children because you might wonder if this different way of educating children will give your child the same result as a traditional system. You might be further confused by the look of the classroom. In a Montessori classroom, children aren’t quietly sitting in seats listening to teachers the way we did when we were little.
But let’s look at something that has a lot of research around it to see whether we should still believe in it. Let’s look at homework. In a traditional system, homework is vital. This is because the whole curriculum is based on memory. A child must remember his lessons. The teacher and her textbooks are considered the fount of information and he or she stands in front of the class and leads the group. She flows forth with information which the child is required to learn. Because memory is not one of our best modes of learning, many children forget the lessons. Teachers know this will happen so they have several ways to reinforce the child’s memory. Repetition is one way. It helps a child remember if the teacher repeats the information several times. Thus the child is given many papers that reinforce the information; some are done at school and some are done at home. There just isn’t enough time for the child to repeat the work at school so the work overflows to the home arena. After the homework there is usually a review of the material, and finally a test is given to see what the child retained. Many times there is a grade given to represent the level of the lesson that was learned by the child. Sometimes, if the child did poorly on the test, the material is again reviewed for the child, perhaps during school or after school or even with a tutor. More frequently, however, the child accepts the test grade as an evaluation of her work and moves on to the next lesson.
Alfie Kohn, reputed author and parent, has researched homework to see whether there is an advantage for the child to have homework. The book, The Homework Myth, is available in the parent’s library at our school in case you want to read it. Here is some of what he found:
At best, most homework studies show only an association, not a causal relationship. As statisticians will tell us correlation does not prove causation. Most research cited to show that homework is academically beneficial does not prove homework is the reason behind the benefits.
Homework studies confuse grades and test scores with learning. In 1998, a study was conducted with both younger and older students, grades 2-12, using both grades and standardized test scores to measure achievement. The effect on grades of amount of homework assigned, for both younger and older students, showed no significant relationship; the effect on test scores of amount of homework assigned, for both younger and older students, demonstrated no significant relationship; the effect on grades of amount of homework done, for younger students, demonstrated a negative relationship, for older students a positive relationship; the effect on test scores of the amount of homework done, for both younger and older students, showed no significant relationship.
There is no evidence of any academic benefit from homework in elementary school.
The results of national and international exams raise further doubts about homework’s role. Fourth graders who did no homework got roughly the same score in the 2000 school year on the math exam as those who did 30 minutes a night.
I’ve had it in my mind for many years to write a book called, In Defense of Children. I have felt all my professional life that children need advocates who are knowledgeable about what kind of education is truly best for them. Homework is one example of too many educators and parents thinking the world is flat just because the horizon is. It’s time to free ourselves of wrongful thinking and to grant our children the kind of support they truly need to be all they are capable of becoming.
The studies are clear. Children who are read stories learn to read better than children who are not. When parents demonstrate that they, too, love reading to themselves, they model a love of reading to their children which children like to emulate. This seems understandable. But what I’ve been wondering about is the impact of telling stories to children.
For over 40 years I’ve been telling children the stories of Uncle Lloyd. He was my real uncle, my mother’s oldest brother. I heard these stories in the evening when I was a child. My grandmother, Lloyd’s mother, often spent the nights with us and returned to her home during the days. We slept together in my bedroom and she would scratch my back and tell me these stories of her first-born child. I loved hearing these stories and asked her to tell them to me over and over again.
When I was a child it was common for adults to tell stories. We had books but not so many as your children have in today’s time. We didn’t have lots of toys to play with, certainly no electronic games. Our fun was created by our own imaginations as we pretended a card table with a sheet over it was a cave. Without many picture books, we learned to make our own mental images as stories were told to us. We had to listen carefully to get the gist of the story; there weren’t any visual aids. Times were different as they are for all generations, different, not better not worse, just ours. The time then belonged to us and our way of life.
I’ve thought a lot about those days, how much fun it was to be with my grandmother each night as she devoted herself to me. I’ve been impressed at how I’ve held on to those stories of Uncle Lloyd that she told me. But even more than that, I’ve been dumbfounded by how children over all these years have loved hearing these stories. They ask to be told them over and over again. Now for those of you who haven’t heard these stories, let me tell you that they’re not magical or mystical stories. They aren’t the stuff of Harry Potter. They’re just little vignettes about the life of a child growing up in the early 1900s. I have a few old, old photographs which prove to the children that these people really did live but don’t show anything related to the substance of the Uncle Lloyd stories. No, the children are required to listen carefully and to do just what I did when I was little, make their own mind pictures of Uncle Lloyd’s life.
There’s something to all this that we all need to take in. Oral stories are a tradition as old as time and as valuable, too. Start your own storytelling legacy with your own children. Then when they are my age they will know their own history and be able to preserve it.
Dr. Gattegno, originator of our Words in Color reading program and noted educator, would remind parents and teachers that we adults could better understand the problems confronting our children because we had been their ages. They, on the other hand, could not relate to our point of view because they had not yet lived our age! But it seems we so quickly forget what it was like being a kid. We forget what effect our parents’ form of discipline had on us, how we thought about it, what we wished it might have been. So what we need to do is to search our own personal history, our own childhoods, and try to get in touch with ourselves as children. Then perhaps we can better parent our offspring.
When we look at the lessons we want our children to learn, among them are the practical matters of common sense living. For instance, we know that in order to be a successful member of our society, children need to learn to postpone gratification. They must learn that they can’t have what they want right now. My husband used to have an unwritten rule about this. Whenever a child asked for something NOW, the answer was always, “no.” The children learned to stage their requests in advance to maximize their chances of getting what they wanted or even needed.
Children also need to learn that they don’t get to have everything they want. Some things just won’t be theirs. This isn’t so much a desire on our parts to raise children who aren’t greedy, but it is also to teach children that things don’t bring happiness, and having more doesn’t make life better.
Another lesson is that they must learn to do things they don’t want to do. Oh, that life could be only doing what we like to do! But that’s not reality for us or our children. This is a particularly interesting one for us Montessorians because we want all of our students to like all of their work! Montessori used to talk of enticing children with intriguing lessons so that they would fall in love with their work. Sometimes this works and at other times normal boredom appears, and children find that work can’t always be exciting and interesting but that it is sometimes just something we must do. Here children have the opportunity to learn self discipline. They must learn to lead themselves in areas of obligation to the completion of tasks. Of course this becomes more important as children grow older – they get assignments and homework. But it is something that can begin to be taught at an earlier age by having chores that everyone shares at home.
A chore is something all members of the family do for the welfare of all. There is no financial reward for chores. Jobs, on the other hand, do receive financial payment. The difference between chores and jobs are that chores are things that must be done with regularity to make daily living easier for all. Some examples of these are setting the table, taking out the trash, and washing the dishes. Jobs can be things like weeding the garden, mowing the lawn, or helping an adult fix something. Jobs get advertised while chores get assigned. All of this happens at weekly family meetings.
Mom or Dad announces at the family meeting that there are some chores that need doing. A list is produced of maybe six things that need doing daily. (These do not include cleaning one’s own room, making one’s own bed, or folding one’s own laundry. Those things one does for oneself, not for the welfare of others in the family.) Children may each choose a chore or two to do. The chore will be done for one or two weeks, then the chores will be rotated to other children. The children will discover that some chores are OK and some are not as much fun to do. This is part of the lesson. Remember ,we want to begin teaching our children that we all must do some things we don’t like. Children learn this isn’t so horrible, and they even learn strategies for getting the chores done. Some children will do the chores right away while others will wait until the last minute, but chores are a part of living responsibly in a family. Other things that children like to do, like having friends over for play dates or participating in after school activities, aren’t offered until the chores are completed.
If we want our children to be successful in our culture, we must set up situations through which they can learn the lessons. We need to make these situations as much like the real world as possible. In the real world none of us get to do just what we want all day long. Obligations are part of life. Children need to get these lessons besides the ones of multiplication and spelling!
Slow down! Stop rushing, and above all, stop rushing your children! Take the word “hurry” and hide it. It’s a word children don’t understand anyhow and won’t obey even if they were to understand it. What children hear when you say “hurry” is that you’re going to leave them. They are frightened by that idea and instead of doing what you want, they may become paralyzed with anxiety or fear and many times end up actually slowing down and becoming somewhat befuddled!
So, instead of frantically calling out to your children and telling or asking them to hurry, you can plan ahead and create strategies that have better chances of working. Here is a suggestion you might try.
First, in a calm manner and at a time when you are not going anywhere, when there is no pending problem, tell your child that you have a problem and need his help in solving it. ( I am not certain how versed you are with this kind of dialogue, so I am going to give you examples of the words to say.) Say, “ Gee, I’ve got a problem and I need your help. Are you available now to hear my problem and help me problem solve?” Probably your child will say, “Sure.” But if he doesn’t, then you say, “When would be a good time for me to talk to you about my problem?” He says, “In about 30 minutes.” You return in 30 minutes. Then you say, “I’m feeling really upset because each morning when it’s time to go to school I find myself yelling at you to hurry so I won’t be late for work. I don’t want to yell at you, I feel terrible when I do that, but I get so nervous that I’m going to be late for work, that I just lose it and start yelling. I want to be on time for work, and I don’t want to yell at you any more. Can you think of a plan we could create that would help me get to the car in a more peaceful manner, that would still allow me to get to work on time and not yell at you in the process?”
Your child could say almost anything, so I’ll have to guess! He might say, “I sure hate it when you yell at me. I don’t want to leave the house; I just want to hide somewhere when you do that.” Or he might offer up a solution like, “Maybe you could get up earlier.” When he begins to offer a suggestion, you get out a piece of paper and start writing down any of his suggestions. Hopefully his ideas will also give you new ideas, too. Your idea list might look like this:
1. Mom gets up 15 minutes earlier to have more time.
2. Child gets own alarm clock and uses it to get himself up instead of having Mom wake him.
3. Before Mom starts yelling and goes out the door, Mom gives Child a 5-minute notice (Mom cheerfully says, ‘The car is pulling out in 5 minutes.”), then a 1 minute notice.
4. Child dresses before eating breakfast to make sure he’s ready after he eats.
5. Mom rings a bell when she’s ready to leave instead of calling (yelling) out.
6. Child gives the 5-minute warning to Mom and then the 1-minute warning to her.
7. Child packs lunch the night before.
8. Mom and Child put shoes by the door the night before.
9. Child selects clothes for school the night before and lays them out on his dresser.
… to be continued
Once you’ve exhausted the ideas (remember to write every idea down even if you don’t like it), then you look at them together and you deselect the ones you don’t like. You might say, “I’m not willing to get 15 minutes less sleep. I can’t get up any earlier, so number 1 is no good.” Your child might say, “ I don’t want you to ring a bell when it’s time to go; that’s too much like school! Number 5 is a no go for me.” With that you draw a line through each deselected one. You will end up with perhaps only one that doesn’t have a line in it, and that’s your solution. Or there might be two that you both like. So now you have formulated a plan that you both are willing to try tomorrow morning. This is the first step. It doesn’t mean that your problem is solved because we don’t know if this plan will be followed yet! But we’re hopeful.
Now you say to your child, “Thank you so much for helping me. I feel so relieved. I am feeling like I’ll be able to get to work tomorrow morning on time, and I’m also thinking that I’ll be able to do it without yelling. I’m going to be calm because of the plan you helped me create. Thank you! I really appreciate your help and your great ideas.”
When it’s time for bed, you again reflect on your problem-solving experience, again show your appreciation for his time and efforts, and ask your child if there is anything that needs to be done in preparation for tomorrow morning’s on-time departure. He may say, “Oh, don’t worry, I already put my clothes out for tomorrow!” Or, “I already set my new alarm clock!” Or he might say, “Mom, have you put your shoes out by the front door?”
Probably tomorrow will work. You and your child will get out of the house in a timely manner. When you get in the car with your child, you heave a huge sigh and you say, “Oh, I feel so calm. I am rested and ready to take you to school and me to work. And I’m so grateful for your help. I just love working on problems with you! You had such great ideas!”
On the other hand, in case it didn’t work, you try not to yell and you say, “ I wonder what went wrong today that kept our plan from working?” Your child might say, “ I guess I forgot to put my shoes by the door last night and I didn’t have enough time to find them this morning.” You’d say, “ Well, how could you change that for tomorrow morning?” He says, “I’ll remind myself right after my bath to put my shoes by the door.” You say, “Great idea, I bet that will work. We’ll try again tomorrow. I think we can make it!”
The ideas that you need to plant in your head are that children want to be cooperative, that children want to be asked for their assistance in solving problems, that children never do well when they are yelled at, criticized, belittled, or punished, and that children become who they think you think they are! Just because you’re bigger than they are doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Enlist your child’s cooperation in a kind way, with a loving voice, a smile on your face, and compassion in you heart. Good things will come for all of you.
At the beginning of each school year, we teachers always like to formulate classroom “rules” because they seem to help establish classroom boundaries. Parents usually like rules, too, for the same reasons. Children, however, are usually averse to rules because they don’t like grown ups bossing them around, and rules seem to give adults the authority to call the shots. While children may listen to the rules and nod their heads, that behavior does not indicate a willingness to cooperate with the adults and live by the rules.
So how can we adults set boundaries, establish limits so that our children learn to control their behaviors and act appropriately without our having to yell at them or punish them? Is this possible?
The good news is yes, we can create situations in which our children willingly cooperate with us because they want to be a significant part of our family. As family members who count, children feel loved, feel respected, feel valued, feel powerful, and feel like they belong. In other words their needs are met, and when their needs are met they behave. So now let’s create that loving family atmosphere that will bring out the best in our children and in ourselves!
First of all, we have to get some ideas into our heads that will help us. We must remember that children don’t want to be bossed around even if they are rewarded for their good behavior. Rewards only work when children want them to work and threats are the same. Next, we must remember that children follow rules they help create. So we’ve got to figure out a way for our children to help make the rules and yet still have rules created that do what we need them to do, set the boundaries. Here’s how you do this.
Plan a family meeting, a time when everyone in the family sits in the living room and talks to each other. You begin by saying something like this: “Thank you so much for coming to our family meeting. I love it when we’re all together like this! Now, I have some problems and I really need your help. Let me tell you what’s bothering me and you see if you are willing to help me solve these problems. I’m having a terrible time functioning without any rules in this house. I was thinking that if there were some rules that we all agreed to live by, our lives together would be much better. How do you feel about this? Do you think some rules would help us, and are you willing to help think of some we might need?”
– – to be continued
House Rules – part 2
Here you wait to see if your children are willing to do this and you listen to their response. Probably they will say, “Sure, Mom, we think we need some rules and we’re willing to help make some. How many rules do you want?”
“Oh, not more than five. I can’t remember too many!” you respond. “The thing I’m having the most trouble with is the noise inside the house. Our voices are sometimes so loud that I can’t really think clearly. I was wondering what we could do about that. Does this bother anyone else?”
Again, listen to your child and respond from there. So one child says, “Right, I hate it when anyone yells at me. I think it would be good to have a rule that says ‘no yelling in the house’”, to which you say, “Great idea! I feel better already.” But at that moment you remind yourself that your goal is to establish simple rules that are stated in a positive way. An example of this would be “Speak to each other with inside voices.” Then you say out loud, “I don’t want to feel like the rule is bossing me around; how about if we say the rule in a way that sounds like we’re being asked rather than bossed? How about “Speak to each other with a normal voice inside the house.” Then most likely the children will agree with this wording. In fact, they will probably like the way this meeting is going. It will feel to them like their feelings are being considered. But we haven’t gained consensus yet, so we ask everyone there, “So, do you like this rule? Do you agree with it for our family?” If there is consensus, you don’t need to vote on these rules. Consensus can be given in your meeting just by nodding a head or saying, “yeah.”
Depending on how the meeting is going, you can stop after one rule and do more later. You don’t want to wear your children out so that they won’t want to meet with you again! But before you stop you say, “Thanks for helping me. You have such great ideas and I really like hearing them. I feel so much better now. But I’m just wondering what we’re going to do if someone breaks this rule, if someone in our family screams at another family member. What do you think we should do then? I know it probably won’t happen since we’ve done such a great job of making a rule, but I just need to know that part, too.”
Listen again to your children and what they suggest. If they offer a punishment for not following the family rules you say, “Oh, I don’t want anyone punished because they don’t follow our family rules. I’d rather everyone learn to help each other. That’s what our rules are for. So if one of us forgets a rule, how could we help them out? Could we remind them if they forget? Could we give a hand signal to let them know they forgot the rule? What ideas do you have?”
Again, listen and respond thoughtfully. So let’s imagine that someone said if a family member forgets and yells at one of us inside the house, the person who got yelled at goes to the person who yelled and simply says one word as a reminder, and that word is “snitzle.” Oh, it could be any word, even a silly word like snitzle! Why? Well, so no one feels blamed or wronged. Give a little laughter into the mix!
Now the meeting is almost over and you say, “Well, we certainly accomplished a lot today. I for one am feeling wonderful. I love our family! I have a special treat to end our meeting. I baked chocolate chip cookies (or have popcorn or whatever sounds like something special to you), let’s go into the kitchen and have some milk and cookies!”
Remember, children don’t have to feel bad to behave better! Kids do better when they feel better and so do you!
Most of us Americans are here because someone in our family, somewhere along the line, thought America was the land of opportunity. And indeed it is, despite the global financial crisis, despite unrest all over the world, and despite what other countries can offer their citizens. No other country in the world is quite like ours and most of us Americans know that. In fact, all we have to do is to travel a few hundred miles to our south to see just how difficult getting ahead can be.
We recently returned from a short trip to Belize, formerly known as British Honduras. Most of Central America was colonized by the Spanish, but this country the size of New Hampshire was controlled by the British until 1981, when the country became independent and changed its name to reflect its Mayan roots. Naturally, the country’s official language is English and is spoken in the schools, but at home the Belizeans speak either one of several Mayan dialects or Spanish. And among themselves the Belizeans speak a Creole. A country of about 300,000 finds itself a third-world country despite the facts that 90% of its children complete 8th grade and 70% complete high school, and all of its citizens speak multiple languages. We mono-lingual Americans could do so well!
In our ignorance we could perhaps cite our beliefs why these people continue to live in sub-standard conditions. But after having seen them and having direct contact with many, I can only tell you how hard they work and how bright and well educated they are. What they are missing though is opportunity, the kind of opportunity we Americans enjoy from our country and our government.
And so I come to the Parents Association Spring Fling and our school’s financial aid program. What is standing between success and failure is often opportunity. And that’s what our school’s financial aid program gives to children in our community whose families cannot afford the total school tuition. Those of us who have chosen a private Montessori school for our children have many reasons for doing so. Mine were to give my children and now my grandchildren a quality of education not found elsewhere:
appropriate academic education that is individualized and if needed, accelerated; psychologically safe interaction among adults and children in which all are respected; interaction among children that is not only supervised but also in which problem-solving instruction is valued and practiced, a school where parents are welcomed to witness the life of their children’s classrooms first hand.
These things seem to me to be the keys to success for all children. But as the daughter of Manatee County public school teachers and as a graduate of these schools, what I did not want was to place my children in a social setting that was only for the elite as many private schools today are. Our world is as diverse as our country is ethnic and part of a good education for our children is to present the world to them, the world of diversity.
As the director of this school, I am grateful to the Parents Association for all of their hard work in presenting the Spring Fling, whose financial proceeds benefit the school’s financial aid program. Those of us who can easily afford the tuition and could afford to enroll our children at any private school, are giving our children friends, not based on who their father and mother are or how much money they make, but on qualities of the individual friend. And those of us who could not financially afford to give our children the opportunities of our school’s programs are able to find tuition assistance. How many children are helped is only limited by our willingness and ability to be generous.
In these difficult global economic times, even the wealthiest of us are caused to pause, but as Americans we know what opportunity means and the difference it can make. We congratulate the Center Parents Association for their hard work in providing us with a terrific event, the Spring Fling, which translates to opportunities for our entire school community.
While I began life as an only child, I am now part of a large family. I have one husband, four grown children, two sons-in-law, and six grandchildren. That means that our family celebrates a birthday about every month or more, and I am responsible for remembering everyone’s birthday with my homemade-from-scratch secret family recipe chocolate cake! It’s become a ritual, and rituals help children answer the important question, “Where do I belong?” Children need to know which clan is their clan, what the rules of their clan are, how their clan behaves, what foods they eat, what games they play, what stories they tell, what beliefs they hold, and so on. We adults may not realize that our children are compiling this family information and letting this information brand them as members of a particular family, but they are all the time. So a questioning adult mind might ask what can be done to enhance this set of family experiences for our children. And the answer comes to us: lots and lots of things!
Of course first on the list is family dinners, my favorite branding technique! Nothing does more for a family and for all of its children than to share a meal together, every day if possible. The dinner table is where your family’s heart beats most strongly. It’s where everything your family values is presented because it’s where you all exchange ideas and beliefs, your family stories. So one thing you can do to really help your child feel secure and to gain his identity as a member of your clan is to gather together for dinner. Put a lot of rituals into this daily event by setting the stage the way you want for the drama of life to unfold. Everybody has a part as somebody cooks, somebody sets the table, somebody puts the flowers on the table, somebody carries the food to the table, somebody says a family greeting or perhaps a blessing, and the meal begins. Then the conversation takes center stage. When children are small, the talk is small and as they grow, the talk grows to important issues and ideas. Value is given to this ritual by having it happen every day; it’s important and everyone treats it as important. We all show up!
Family dinners aren’t the only ways we imprint our children. Another event that packs a lot of promise is how we celebrate special days. If your family clan celebrates birthdays, then you can create your own rituals around that. You can do so many things. You are limited only by your imagination. The birthday child can select the dinner menu for starters. A special cake can be made, served on a special birthday cake platter with the birthday child getting the first piece served on a little “today is your birthday” plate. You can adapt some of the school’s celebration of life ceremony you’ve seen done in the classrooms and have everyone sit in a circle with the birthday child in the middle. Then as you begin, each family member says something positive to the child. This could be an affirmation or a compliment for the child. Think about the language you want so you can teach your children how to give a compliment, something like, “ I would like to compliment you for helping me carry the groceries in from the car.” Remember, compliments aren’t about how you look, but instead they place importance on a value you want your clan to adopt, like helpfulness or kindness.
A third activity you can do that will strengthen your family bond is to have weekly family meetings. Children ages three or four and older can participate, especially if the meetings are brief and structured. At family meetings problems can be solved and plans can be made or announced to the children. So if daddy or mommy is going to be out of town for a day or so, this could be announced to the children at a family meeting. There could be a master calendar for the family and this could be brought to each family meeting so the family can know what’s going to happen when. Every family meeting begins with compliments for each other and ends with something fun. When children are little, meetings are short and may be only compliments and popcorn. As the children grow, meetings can grow to 20 or 30 minutes and the children can even take turns running the meetings.
Of course there are lots of rituals that each family has and many that each family doesn’t really think about but that exist. Rituals are vital to children to help them make the unknown known. You can help your child feel like she’s an important part of your family, a contributing member, and someone who has a place with the rest of your clan.
I’ve been thinking about how I could help you be a better parent and I came up with the idea of writing Commandments for Parents. Then I thought that someone else had probably already done that so I “Googled it” and found that there are several versions of commandments for parents of children, of teens, of swimmers, skaters, athletes, of children with challenges, and so forth. And most of these are really quite lovely and kind. In fact, many of the things that are written I would support, but not totally! So here is my version, for what it’s worth!
Preamble to the Guidelines for Parents
Children are life’s greatest gift to parents. However, the instruction booklet has purposely been omitted. Each parent is encouraged to consult her/his own heart before taking any action and ask this one question: When my child is an adult, will s/he look back to this moment and feel loved for the action I took? The question is not will your child think you did the right thing to teach the lesson or could she understand why you did what you did. The question is about something else; it’s about love, not lessons. And love is what you need to parent without directions.
The second thing you need is to know is that children of all ages, 0-19 or 0-30, are not small adults. They are as similar to adults as tadpoles are to frogs. They don’t think like adults, reason like adults, plan ahead like adults, use forethought, or learn like adults. They are something very different from adults, and though all adults were once children, all adults have forgotten their childhood perspective and can’t be expected to accurately remember or to reconstruct their childhoods, not even you.
Guidelines for Parents
1. Love your child with all your heart and with all your head, knowing that love is a verb and not a feeling.
2. Speak to, look at, and touch your child in the ways you want your child to speak to, look at, and touch you. Know that this is easier for you to do than for your child, and be able to accept that it will take your child at least two decades to be able to do this consistently.
3. Never give your child criticism, not even constructive criticism. Your child cannot integrate criticism, process it, or learn from it. She can only be harmed by it as she subtracts it from her own sense of self worth.
4. Always encourage, not praise, your child often. Encouragement makes a statement about the task or the action your child is doing, not about your child himself. Praise makes a statement about your child himself. Encouragement helps your child as he adds it to his sense of self worth. Praise hurts your child as it manipulates him involuntarily and causes him to forget what he is feeling and causes him to try to understand what you are feeling instead. EXAMPLE: “The way you set the table with the napkin so carefully folded invites us all to dinner.” NOT: “You’re so good at setting the table.”
5. Understand that your child lives only in the moment and has no real understanding of the future or the existence of the future. Therefore, before you ask your child to do anything new, prepare her for the activity and discuss respectfully what you want her to do or how you want her to behave.
6. Set limits in a new way. Never threaten your child or tell him what will happen if he doesn’t do something you want him to do. Instead tell him what your family limits are, how your family behaves, and what happens when he behaves this way. EXAMPLE: “We will leave when your bed is made.” NOT: “You’re not going until your bed is made.”
7. Encourage your child to be cooperative within your family by cooperating with her. Set the example of what you hope she will do. Don’t argue with her. Your child doesn’t know when arguments are over, only adults know that. Therefore don’t engage in arguments with your child.
8. Understand that because your child is not a small adult that he does not have judgment and cannot gain wisdom at any time in his childhood, however long his childhood takes or lasts, even if you think your child is unusually mature.
9. Understand that your child thinks she can do anything without getting hurt and that she can’t perceive danger in current or future situations. Remember she doesn’t have judgment about danger or the presence of danger.
10. Your child does not respond positively to repeated requests. His response is to stop listening. Your child only listens to adults who listen to him. When your child has to work to get an adult to listen to him, your child will make the adult work to get him to listen and will usually continue to resist listening to the adult even when the adult really tries to get his attention.
11. Your child is visual and learns by watching. She cannot separate reality from fiction. Protect your child from seeing violent images, real or created. Your child can learn to be violent by watching others engage in violence. Remember your child doesn’t have judgment about violence.
12. Patience is not a virtue, it is a parental necessity. Your child does not have patience but can slowly gain it over time when there is an abundance of it in his home. Part of patience is to remain calm in the face of confusion or chaos. Be calm and patient longer than you think necessary.
13. Your child cannot follow oral directions. He cannot implement unrequested suggestions or unrequested solutions that are given by adults. Your child can come up with lots of ideas for solutions to problems if adults ask him. Ask your child what to do to solve problems, his problems and even your simple ones.
14. Childhood can last from 20 to 30 years depending upon the child. All children are different. Love your child with all your heart and with all your head.
I’m sure that this list is just the first page of what could be a complete owner’s manual. But now that you’ve gotten the idea, I’m hopeful that you can create your own list of helpful guidelines. All you really need to do is to wait until tonight when your child is in bed asleep and go into her/his room and sit quietly for several minutes, watching him/her sleep. This person in front of you is your child and all she/he wants is to be loved by you and raised by you in a truly loving manner. You can do that, can’t you?
I was an only child of older parents so in a way I was for my parents their fondest wish come true! While that was wonderful for me, I felt very special, but it did also put some subtle demands upon me that caused me to learn how to please my parents and to make them happy. So many times I became in touch with their feelings and sometimes out of touch with my own.
My mother had many close friends and she taught me to call them “Aunt” or “Uncle” even though they weren’t related to me. I think this was because it would have been improper in those days to call an adult by her first name, and it would have been somewhat awkward to call such a close family friend by “Mrs.” So I can understand the solution my parents chose and I think it was a common practice in those days. And it was not difficult for me to call these many friends “Aunt Martha” or “Aunt Lucille,” because after all I was fond of these friends too, and I felt close to them.
Sometimes one or two of these friends would be at our home for dinner and afterwards. It would be my bed time and my mother would then tell me to say “goodnight” and give a “goodnight hug and kiss” to these friends. I remember going around the living room and hugging and kissing and bidding good night to each one as my parents beamed their approval. They were glad I was such a loving child. And truthfully, there was nothing wrong with these innocent gestures. But what was troublesome was that I didn’t really want to engage in this friendship ritual, yet I was sort of stuck. You see, I knew this is what my parents expected me to do, and in fact, it was what they told me to do.
Little things sometimes have lasting effects upon our lives, and I believe I was affected by this particular parental request. As an adult, I don’t like to hug and kiss very many people. In fact, I avoid New Year’s Eve parties because I don’t want to be faced with mass kissing! When people come to visit our home, my husband usually hugs our friends while I usually simply verbally greet them. It’s funny, too, because a guest will move to hug Peter and yet sort of physically stammer when greeting me, sensing that I’m not a hugger. The only exception to my willingness to hug is children. I don’t make children feel like they have to hug me, but I do send out the nonverbal message that I am open and ready to give and receive a hug from them almost any time.
Another outcome of my parent’s good night ritual was that I never asked my children to call my friends by “Aunt” or “Uncle.” I rather gave them permission to call my friends by their first name, just as I did. And when I started the school, I extended that “privilege” to all my students of being able to call all of us teachers by our first names. I believe the most significant effect of my parents’ request is that it caused me to feel very strongly about not requiring children to do or say these “polite” things just because they are what we want them to do. I think that mutual respect means that we are willing to show respect to one another regardless of our age or station in life. I would be insulted if my husband were to ask me to say “thank you” to someone, or like George Burns used to say comically to Gracie Allen (is anyone else old enough to remember this?), “Say goodnight Gracie.” So I would not ask or tell my children to do this either. Neither would I ask or tell them to say “thank you” or many of those other mannerly euphemisms.
Manners are important, but they need to be learned from a point of appreciation, not from being required to say or do something. How, you might wonder, do we get our children to be sensitive and considerate enough to be polite to others? Well, instead of telling a child to say “hello to your Aunt Sally,” we would model saying hello to her. Before we were to go somewhere and see a friend, we would have a discussion with our child about the coming visit. Some of the things we would discuss would be what we could do or say that might help our friend feel welcomed into our home. This would include discussing how we could greet her, where we could ask her to sit, whether we would show her our house, which rooms might be included in the visit, whether we might have made a special treat for her, or whether we plan to offer her any refreshments. These things would be discussed with the child in advance of the meeting so that the child could feel respected and that her ideas and feelings were considered. These discussions of events before they happen cause children to use their imagination and evoke their sense of compassion and kindness towards others. They act like a trial run; they give children the feeling of having experiences.
We think wrongly that the only way to teach a child manners is to request that he say what we tell him to say or do what we tell him to do when we tell him. This may result in a child learning the proper prompts but it won’t get the result possible if we would instead take the child into consideration and not make demands that only create facades of behavior.
When my grandmother was in her early eighties, she reflected that she had been born in the days when people traveled by horse and buggy and had lived to see man travel in a spaceship to the moon. She said that it was about as much change as a person could accept in one lifetime. While I’m far from her age, I have lived long enough to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was alive before computers or Nintendos were invented! How could that be, they wonder? And they are probably thinking that I must be ancient in the same way I thought my grandmother was to have been born before cars were invented. No matter when we’re born or how modern we feel, there will always be generational differences that can’t be bridged. But these generational differences can be beneficial to all of us if we learn to respect our different points of view and our uncommon perspectives.
I’ve heard it told that there is an Inuit tribe that tattoos dark lines on their faces so that they look older than they are. This is to show their respect for the older members of their tribe. It’s sort of the opposite of having a face lift in our culture where we so highly value youth and looking younger than we are. The Chinese also value and respect their elders. They believe something called wisdom is bestowed to the older members of their families. And because they believe this, they value their elders and what they have to say and their contributions to their families.
Perhaps because we’re a fairly young country as countries go, we’ve come to be so enchanted with being young, in looking young. We’ve almost discounted the notion of wisdom and instead value anything that’s new. Maybe it’s our ever present optimistic spirit, our “can-do” attitude, or even our entertainment industry that makes us all so susceptible to chasing the fountain of youth. It certainly isn’t our children; they’re doing just the opposite. Take a look at the clothing industry for kids. Have you looked at the shoes made for seven year olds? They look to me like miniature adult shoes complete with little heels and in many colors. No, our kids are on the grow-up-quick path just as we’re on the stay-young-forever trip. And to my way of thinking, something is very wrong about both of these ventures.
Somewhere there’s got to be a perfect time, a perfect age, a perfect moment. Somehow, there’s got to be a time slot in our lives where we’re just the right age, even for a little while. Give us the peace of those moments, the moments where we can find contentment. Why in our culture does this seem to be so elusive? And what part are we playing, conscientiously or unconscientiously, to perpetuate these delusions? After all, we can’t really be any age other than the one we are. So why is it so hard for us to be our age? And why do we fear facing the age we are or the age we are becoming?
… to be continued
Be Your Age- part 2
I think the answers to these questions lie in acceptance. Isn’t that our real issue? For when we examine this concept, we find that we’re having trouble really accepting so many things, not just our age or our time of life. We’re taught as young children to only accept our very best efforts and our very best results. Scores of less than 100%, while they may still be an A, just aren’t our best. And most of the photos taken of us don’t really do us justice. How difficult it is to get a family photo where everyone looks as good as they are. None of us are paid as much in our jobs as we’re worth, nor are we really appreciated the way we should be for what we contribute. Our kids embarrass us when they misbehave and we feel like we’re not the parents we want to be. And if anyone starts criticizing us, well then our worst fears are realized because now someone is discovering that we’re not really perfect after all. And don’t look too closely at the way these pants fit because we’re not in as good a shape as we need to be. We’ve just got to find time to get to the gym! You’re getting the gist, aren’t you?
Contentment, where are you and how can we get to you? Well, first of all, get off the roller coaster, slow down, say “stop” or “no, I won’t.” It’s OK to be who you are. In fact, it’s great being who you are in the time you’re you. This is the moment, this is your moment, it’s the most wonderful moment, and no one and no idea should destroy the wonder of this moment. And while you’re at iT, take your children out of the rat race, too. Childhood is magical and fleeting and every child deserves as much of it as possible for a long as it lasts.
Each age, each stage makes its own contribution to our lives. But for us to really get it, we’ve got to accept each other and our children where we are. We’ve got to start valuing each person, each family member, each friend, each co-worker, each fellow classmate, each person whose life interacts with ours. We’ve got to learn to value our differences whether they come from our generational differences or our cultural differences or our ethnic differences. And most of all, for our children to be able to thrive on the world stage, we’ve got to teach them the wonder of diversity, the value of different points of view, the strength in receiving different perspectives, the richness of the ages of life.
Sibling rivalry is what they call it when our loving children fight with their brothers and sisters. People have written many successful books about it because we parents feel really wounded when we have to witness the children we adore being so mean to each other, and we’re eager to figure out how to stop it from happening. But alas, when we read about it we find out that this is very normal, even helpful in some ways, for when children fight with their brothers and sisters they are learning how to be in life-long relationships. Sometimes fighting is part of a lengthy relationship and resolving the conflict is a lesson that we all must learn. We need to know how to “kiss and make up” when we’ve engaged in heated disagreements with those closest to us.
When I was little my cousin and I used to fight regularly. I remember one fight when we were about 10 years old. She got mad at me and took her musical recorder and began playing it loudly as she strutted around the yard. I must have had something to say to her because I chased her around the yard, trying in vain to make her listen to me. But with the recorder being played so loudly, of course she couldn’t hear me. I was so upset over not being heard!
When my grandmother would witness my cousin and me fighting, she would call us together and tell us that if we were going to fight, she would have to ask us to “kiss and make up.” Well, that was about the last thing we wanted to do, so that was a pretty effective thing to say to us to thwart our arguments.
For most of us, witnessing our children fight is pretty upsetting. We don’t know who was in the right or in the wrong. We make the mistake of getting involved; usually we scold the older, larger child, and take the side of what we perceive is the weaker child, usually the younger one! The best thing we could do is to stay out of the fray! But we’re worried that one child might actually hurt another one and we use that as our justification to take some action. What we inadvertently do is to teach the children how to fight “dirty,” that is how to fight covertly, so that we can’t see what is truly happening, so that we’re confused, in the dark, ignorant, and out of touch.
Whenever children have issues at school, they many times come into my office and talk to each other with me as their advocate and witness. They’re learning how to express their feelings and even their needs without challenging the other person, without criticizing or blaming the other child. When this happens, we can find solutions. If we look for blame, we only find blame. So we begin by asking, “What are we looking for?” They both say, “Solutions.” I remind them that no one is in trouble and that all I want to know is what happened and how we can find a solution that works for everyone.
Each time I meet with children and dialogue in this way, I almost have to pinch myself to believe what I am witnessing. I can hardly believe my eyes and ears at what the children are saying to each other, how they are saying it, and how they are receiving it from each other. It’s almost miraculous. Only a few moments before, one child was throwing his shoe at the other child because that child broke his pencil purposefully, and now they are both calm, looking at each other and talking about how they feel. (Note a clue here: wait until the “mad” is gone from the children to help them problem solve. No one can solve a problem if anger has a hold on him, not even you! So be sure you’re calm, too.) It is at these moments I wish you were all there, right in the room with me to witness what I’m witnessing. This isn’t something children can ever explain to you; you have to be there to see and believe it. As I watch the children’s behavior, I am reminded about the wonder of the human spirit, the purity of the child’s heart, the sacredness of the child’s soul. It is in these moments I feel an overwhelming hope for the future of all of our lives. This is the vision Maria Montessori had when she envisioned a peaceful world, one created by the children, those children who are opening their hearts and minds to each other as they talk about their feelings.
Our Montessori curriculum is filled with academic challenges that are usually beyond the traditional curriculum found in other schools. That may be the reason your bright child is enrolled at this school, to get an advanced academic curriculum, to get a head start or to maintain that head start. But beyond that, harder to deliver, and even more important for the child, is the education of the personal self, the social, emotional, and human self. It’s what Montessori called the education of the “whole child.” When the whole child is considered as the curriculum is planned, what emerges is a child who is not only academically fit but who is a capable human being. And lucky for you, this kind of education is our specialty.
Teachers call them “teachable moments.” They’re those times when something happens and a teacher sees an opportunity for a child to learn something unplanned but pertinent. Actually, life is full of these “teachable moments,” and both parents and teachers can take advantage of them if we’re forward thinking. Usually we use these moments reactively – something has occurred and we’re reacting as best we can to the event – but the best “teachable moments” are the ones in which we’re proactive, that is nothing troubling is happening but we’re thinking ahead to ways of preventing trouble, or at least to ways of better preparing our children for events that are likely to happen or events we want to help our children avoid. An example of this is stealing. We don’t want our children to steal and yet all children do take things that don’t belong to them and then usually have trouble being honest about what they did. We can wait until they do steal something to take the “teachable moment” or we can find a moment of our own choosing when nothing is happening to teach about stealing.That moment can be as simple as telling a story about something that happened to you as a child, a time when your cousin wanted your favorite doll and took her home without asking you. You can tell your child all about it and in doing so tell your child how you felt when you discovered your doll gone and then how you felt when you found out it was your cousin, your special cousin, the one you really liked, who took your doll. Your feelings of hurt and disappointment as well as betrayal can be described so that your child can experience by proxy your feelings without having had the event happen to her.
The clear advantage of working this way with your child, proactively instead of reactively, is that since nothing happened, you as the parent won’t be confused about what disciplinary action to take against your child. This is so important because when your child steals you will find yourself thinking of ways to make your child “pay” for this deed, ways to make your child feel bad so that she will NEVER do this again.You will think, wrongly so, that by making your child feel remorseful the lesson of honesty will be acquired and integrated into your child’s personality. You will find yourself returning to the idea that discipline equals punishment and that unless you punish your child sufficiently, he will become a thief and you will be a bad parent. All of this thinking is just plain wrong on your part. As right as it seems, it is wrong. Children don’t learn not to do something wrong because we punish them. What they learn from punishment is how to do the dastardly deed more under cover, how to do it better so as not to get caught again, or how to do it and lie more effectively so that you believe they didn’t do it. Or they learn to live in fear and anxiety, not being sure they can control themselves when they have to. But they don’t learn the real lesson, the lesson that it is hurtful to others to steal things, that the other feels badly when someone steals from them, and that the reason not to steal also includes not having the right to hurt someone in that way, understanding how it feels to be hurt.
Our only hope for truly teaching our children to be kind to others and to respect himself and others is to find “teachable moments” for our children to learn compassion and empathy. When children operate from this place in themselves they make good decisions, even when parents and teachers aren’t close by them. Will they be perfect? Will they never fail and always be “good?” They will be just as “good” as we all are and they will be just as “fail-safe” as we all are. We couldn’t ask for more than that, and we shouldn’t expect more. Instead we’ll be there proactively making “teachable moments” for our children to gain insight into the feelings of others. And when they get it, we’ll rejoice. And when they miss the mark, we’ll try our best not to punish them, but to teach them from the goodness of our own heart.
We’re all concerned about education, our children’s education, that is. But have we stopped to think about our education? Not our education for our careers; no, our education for our most important job, that of parenting. Now, how was it that you got your parenting job? Did you fill out an application, did you get a certificate or a degree verifying your qualifications for the job, did you have an interview?
Well, of course I’m speaking tongue in cheek, but nonetheless the job of being someone’s parent is huge, perhaps overwhelming at times, and certainly vital. The Center understands your need and continues to make efforts to support you in your job as your child’s parent. Our latest effort was to bring to you the opportunity to meet with a parent education expert from Dallas, Texas, who spent two days in seminar with our staff.
With about 45 parents gathered on a recent Friday evening, parent educator and consultant, therapist, former middle school principal, and author of several parenting books, Mike Brock began his parent education class, and just in the nick of time. Everyone in the audience was already a parent, had that job, that most important of all jobs, and needed some education, even if it was only on-the-job-training, even for only 90 minutes.
So, you might ask, those of you who missed the session, what wisdom was presented, what lessons were offered, what was learned? Mike Brock’s theme was timely, just before the holiday gift-giving frenzy. The title of the lesson was “Raising Respectful, Responsible Children in an Increasingly Self-Indulgent World.” He cited three keys to raising respectful and responsible children: affirmation in the home, contribution in the home, and emotional stability in the home. Let’s look at each key.
Affirmation in the home comes about when parents nurture their child’s nature instead of trying to make their child into something she isn’t or can’t be. Affirmation in the home comes about when parents model respectful behavior, when parents treat their children and talk with their children as respectfully as they treat and talk to their friends. Affirmation in the home comes about when parents love their children unconditionally, not depending upon how they behave or how they do in school, but just because of who they are. Affirmation in the home comes about when children are supported and develop healthy self-esteem, not high, obnoxious self-esteem, or low, empty self-esteem.
Contribution in the home teaches children responsibility. To learn how to be responsible, children must be given responsibilities. They must have jobs that they do in their homes. The adults must tell the children which jobs are available and the children may have some say in which jobs they do. There may be a rotation or a selection, that’s up to you, but the jobs give the children responsibilities and also give the children confidence in their own skills. Some people call these household jobs “chores” and there isn’t any money given for these chores. We all do our part to support our family. There can also be jobs that are for hire, for which someone would be paid, and that someone could be a child. For example, washing a car could be a job that would normally be for hire that a child could do and receive compensation, but setting the table would be a chore that one does as a helpful member of a family. Contribution in the home teaches children responsibility.
Emotional stability in the home is found foremost around the family dinner table where conversation abounds and everyone participates. Emotional stability is threatened when parents invite others into the home who have very different values and who teach children those values. Who would invite such unwanted guests, you ask? Parents do, unwittingly, when they let their children watch so much TV, play video games, or use the Internet. Instead, emotional stability in the home is found when parents and children spend time together and share activities, like playing board games or card games together. Emotional stability in the home is found where children learn the difference between what they want and what they need through the careful distribution of gifts or goods and through lessons about giving to others. Emotional stability in the home is found in family meetings where the family machine is oiled and finely tuned, where boundaries are established and problems solved, and where everyone is acknowledged.
Raising respectful and responsible children requires that parents learn what their job is and learn how to do it by getting educated. Our children didn’t come with instructions and we’re not omnipotent.
I know it’s difficult not to get mad at children when they exhibit certain behaviors, but if we truly want our children to learn the lesson or get the message, we need to work on ourselves first to remove our anger. When we’re mad we just can’t think straight and we end up either saying or doing something we often regret later. But probably the real reason to control our feelings of anger is that our anger frightens our children.
Let’s think of a few examples of things children do that might anger us and how what we do affects them. Suppose you have at least two children. One is probably bigger than the other, stronger, older, more capable of causing pain to the other. When you witness the larger child hurting the younger child, perhaps repeatedly, naturally you get mad and want to punish the hurtful child. You want to make sure that child doesn’t hurt the younger one again and you don’t mind it if your older child gets a little scared of you or your anger if that causes the child to stop hurting the little sibling. Ah, if only it would work out that way. But the older, stronger child doesn’t say to himself, “Oh, I’d better not hit my little sister again, it might hurt her.” No, instead what the older child says to himself is, “Gee, the next time I hit her I’d better make sure that Mom can’t see me doing it.”
Or perhaps you’ve invited your friend and her child to a play date at your house. When your friend’s child arrives, your child refuses to let that friend play with any of her toys. Every time the guest selects a toy, your daughter runs over to her and takes it away. You try to reason with your child but she will have nothing to do with that and acts in a stubborn manner when you try to get her to share. When your guests leave, you send your child to her room and tell her that she will never have any friends if she continues to be so selfish and unwilling to share her things. Your voice indicates you’re angry and so does your face. When your child sits in her room, she doesn’t think to herself, “Next time a friend comes over I’ll share my toys.” Instead she thinks, “Next time someone comes over I’ll hide all my toys so no one will know where they are but me.”
… to be continued
What we need as parents and teachers is a new paradigm for reacting to those moments when we’re truly disappointed in our children’s behaviors. We have some information here, if only we would reach for it. For you see, we were once children, too! Our children were never once our age, but we were once their age. If we can get in touch with that time in our life, we might be better able to understand our children. And through understanding them, we might just find ourselves a little less angry and a little less eager to use our anger as a scare tactic.
So, if we’re not going to react with anger, what are we going to do? We’re going to calmly take action. Maybe that action is to separate our fighting children by sending each to separate rooms until they are ready to play without fighting. Maybe it is to state firmly that hitting does not happen in this family. Children who hit cannot play in the family room. The family room is only for peaceful children. Hitting children can only play alone in their own room. Maybe we talk with her before the friend comes over and help her select toys she’s willing to share. And once children know and have agreed with the rules, then what we have to do is to take action every time a family rule is violated. We take action calmly, quietly, cheerfully even, but we try to consistently take action.
We don’t want our children to think they’re bad, we don’t want our children to think we don’t love them, but we do want our children to know that we have boundaries in all of our relationships and that we honor and keep those boundaries. In order for boundaries to be kept, adults need to demonstrate action. We don’t need to get mad, to raise our voices, or to make faces at our children, but we do need to let our children know what behaviors are within bounds and which ones are out of bounds. Those out-of-bounds behaviors result in children being limited in their freedoms. Skip the lectures; take action. Your children will feel safer when they know those boundaries are dependable, that you love them enough to secure their boundaries.
It doesn’t really matter from which side of the fence your families came or which ocean or lands your families crossed to become Americans. It only matters that we can all share in celebrating this national holiday regardless of our politics, our religions, or our places of origin. Not only do we widely celebrate Thanksgiving, but we cherish this time of family gathering so much that we have made this holiday the most-traveled holiday of the year. What we’re saying over and over again by our actions is that we value family above all else. Our family is our tribe, our clan, our people, ourselves. It’s what molds us and makes us who we are. And everything about it impacts us profoundly.
So what do we do on this highly-valued day that makes it worth traveling great distances and even cooking day and night? Well, the secret ingredient is that we feast TOGETHER. And in doing this we bring not only who we are today, but we bring our own particular family heritage with us to the table. Maybe you have a special way of setting the table for Thanksgiving, a special turkey platter, or perhaps you use Aunt Addie’s delicious stuffing recipe or Grandma’s pecan pie recipe. Or maybe you have a certain way of arranging people at the table, maybe the children have their own table at the end of the long grown- up one, or maybe they insist on sitting with you at the grown-up table! Maybe you play board games after dinner, or the children run around the yard, the men catnap, and the women chat as they clear the table and do the dishes! Maybe the women rest and the men do the clean up! But whatever your rituals around Thanksgiving dinner, when everyone starts for home or you turn out the lights and tuck your children into their beds, you know you do have a lot for which to be thankful and somehow this great dinner you all shared brought it all home to you, reminded you of what truly matters in your life: your family and the time you spend together.
So my only question for you is this: Since you know now how powerful it is when your family gathers to break bread together, why don’t you commit to having your own simple family dinners every evening of every day? The memories these times create in the adults’ minds, wonderful and lasting as they are, pale in comparison to the life lessons the children gain when their own family routinely sits down for dinner, conversation, and fellowship.
As I drove past an elementary school I noticed their plaque out front. It read, “We believe in honesty and integrity.” Good, I thought, so do I, and doesn’t everyone? Of course we do! But it’s not enough just to believe in those values and want to transmit them to our children, we have to be proactive in creating situations through which our children can gain appreciation of these values. For it is only when children understand the importance to them of these values that they incorporate them into their own lives, into their own persons. But getting our children to appreciate and live these values, well, that’s the hard part, because too often we don’t know how to “get” our children to behave in the way we want them to!
My husband always talks about living values by example. That is important because our children are little mimickers. They watch and listen closely to our behaviors and to our words. When we’re honest and they witness our honesty in action, they can see we do believe and value it. Likewise, when they see us telling those “little white lies,” they begin to incorporate those into their lives.
We adults have lots of trouble when children lie to us. But we shouldn’t, because after all, it’s normal, all children lie. Children lie for many reasons: they wish reality were different than it is and they think by saying what they wish were true makes it true; they don’t remember what happened so they tell what they think we want to hear or what they think might have happened; they are afraid to tell the truth for fear of what we might do to them; they don’t know the truth and feel shameful in revealing that they don’t know it; they want to protect themselves or a friend from some unpleasant consequence; they actually believe what they are telling is true even if it isn’t.
Another point to remember about children lying is that some of this is developmental. Young children, primary-aged children of 3, 4, and even 5, might be accused of lying when in fact they are truly unable to understand what it means to tell the truth. We are just whistling Dixie when we try to impress upon them the importance of telling the truth. And worse yet, if we pressure them or punish them in hopes of getting them to tell the truth, we only cause our children to become confused and fearful. In some ways they are clueless and we don’t know that.
So, when should we begin expecting our children to be capable of understanding this value? During the Age of Reason, which is in the second plane of development, the ages of 6 to 12 years. And it is during this age that we do observe that children, to our dismay, are not always truthful. Why? Most often children of this age usually lie to us because they are afraid for us to know the truth. They are afraid of what we might do to them when we find out the truth. We often think that if we punish our children for lying that they will learn not to lie. However, using fear to get our children to be honest does not cause our children to be honest. Using fear to get our children to be honest does not cause our children to be honest. (That’s not a typo, it is repetition for emphasis!) It only teaches them to be smarter in the ways they lie to us. The only way a child will come to value being honest and telling the truth is when he is not afraid that his parents will get mad. And if we want to teach our children to be truthful, we must start by removing all the fear for our children.
— to be continued
Learning to Lie – part 2
Once children learn that they can trust their parents and can be truthful with us without fear of retribution, then the next lesson about honesty can be learned. That lesson is about learning to accept responsibility for what he does and says. Children can be helped to learn this if parents discuss the problems of lying in a neutrally charged setting. This means that when we discover that our children have lied to us, we don’t get mad and fuss at them. Instead, when we are calm, we have a thoughtful conversation with them. We discuss the possible effects of what the child said or did. Children aren’t very good at projecting what might happen if they do a certain something or even lie about a certain something. They have difficulty with cause and effect. That’s why they get themselves into trouble, so often the kind of trouble we just scratch our heads about and wonder how they could have been so short sighted! They just don’t see what the results might be. They are not insightful yet. Our conversation should focus on questioning our child about whether the effects of his action are what he had wanted. Usually they are not. Then we discuss what might have been done differently that might have resulted in a more favorable outcome. We both, parents and child, offer our ideas and all ideas are pondered. Our goal is for our child to have an “ah ha! moment” and to see that the lie she told didn’t really make life better but made it worse. Lying didn’t produce the results she wanted so maybe the truth would have caused a better outcome. We want our child to see the value for him in being honest; we want honesty to work for him. Then and only then, will our children value honesty and incorporate it into their lives.
Remember, unless our children learn to tell us the truth without fear that we will get mad, they will not be able to tell us the truth when they are in trouble and might really need our help, help that we would want to give to our children but without their truthful revelations we wouldn’t know how desperately they might need our help. Don’t destroy your child’s chance to be brave by making him afraid to tell you the truth. Remember, we’re talking about children, our children. They are, after all, only children, and they deserve an environment that safely fosters their growth, a home and a school where care is taken to teach them, not to punish them, to encourage them, not to discourage them, to accept them, not reject them, to guide and direct them, not to stymie them.
The job’s a hard one, but you’re up to it. Just look to your heart for the answers.
When something happens between children that results in an adult needing to intervene, the children enter into a sort of fear or flight mode. Have you noticed that? And try as we might, it’s very difficult to ascertain what exactly transpired between the children. When asked about such an altercation, children usually begin by telling us what the other child did. The other child, after hearing this, usually denies that and instead replies with what the other child did to him/her. It isn’t that the children are “lying” really, it’s just that they are trying to avoid something we all hate, and that is blame. No one wants to be blamed for anything. When a child senses blame is coming her way, she goes into overdrive trying desperately to save herself from that curse. For the child knows that what follows blame is punishment, which must be avoided at all costs.
So if we adults know this, that blaming children results in their lying to us, deceiving us, and fearing us, then why are we so intent ourselves on placing blame? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking that once a child has been blamed that he will “come clean” and say those words “I’m sorry” with a contrite heart? Do we believe that he will go on and say, “I did it, go ahead, punish me as you will, I deserve it?” On what planet are we living?
So what could we do instead that might be helpful for our child, that might guide our child towards taking responsibility for her actions, that might open up our communications with her, that might keep us from alienating her?
In her 2003 best seller, Radical Acceptance, psychotherapist Tara Brach tells us that there is a technique she calls a “sacred pause” – taking a moment to pause and reflect on what matters most in our relationship with our child – that might be just what we need to learn and apply. In the heat of the moment, when we’ve witnessed the offense and while the hair is rising on the back of our necks and before we engage with our child, we need to ask ourselves what is truly important. Is it finding out who hit whom first or last or hardest or who started it all? Perhaps we will find that what is truly most important is to preserve the child’s sense of dignity, or for us to convey that no matter what we love this child; or perhaps it’s that we want to deepen the trust between us and our child. Whatever you discover after you take that “sacred pause” and ask yourself what matters most in your relationship with your child, hopefully you will then be able to greet the child and the solution to this problem with an accepting heart, a heart that houses love for this child. After all, what we really want our children to learn is to solve their problems with words, with thoughtful actions, and with kindness. We want our children to be able to tell us the truth because they know we can hear the truth without blaming them.
… to be continued
A Sacred Pause – part 2
Daily children come to me complaining about something another child did. One of our ways of talking about these issues is to follow a pattern of dialogue where one child tells what she doesn’t like that was done to her and the other child actively listens and repeats what the other child said. Then that child asks how he can resolve the dilemma, usually by offering a deed of kindness. But sometimes as the first child tells what she doesn’t like, the other child interrupts and declares that he didn’t do that to the child. You see, he’s feeling blamed. Maybe he’s feeling guilty, maybe he’s afraid of the truth and its consequences, maybe he doesn’t realize what he did, maybe he’s fooling himself, and for sure he’s just a child. So I usually say to that child, “I’m not asking you if you did this or not, I’m just asking you to listen to what Sally said about what she doesn’t like. What did Sally say she doesn’t like?” He might say, “She doesn’t like being poked with a pencil.” That’s a little different than saying, “Sally doesn’t like it when I poke her with a pencil,” and it’s a lot easier for a child to say, a lot safer for a child to say. And you know what? It’s OK with me if he says it that way because he’s getting the idea that it doesn’t matter who poked Sally with a pencil. What matters for him to know is that she doesn’t like being poked by anyone. I might go on and ask him if he might like being poked or if he thinks anyone might like it. Then we can usually agree that probably no one likes that.
As we are talking other things might come up, and we can talk about whatever arises. We’re all starting to feel calmer, we’re leaving the arena of fear or flight, we’re beginning to realize that we can open up a bit, that we can take the chance to discuss our feelings. We’ve begun to communicate, and it’s a miracle.
The result of this communication is sometimes unimaginable at the moment. But what begins ever so quietly and innocently is that we’re creating a relationship of trust between us. Each child is beginning to trust that this is a safe place after all. The one who was hurt feels heard and understood and the one who acted out feels calmer, more in control, and certainly safer and more ready to be truthful. The fear of blame has been erased.
“But,” you might say, “doesn’t the child need to be punished; shouldn’t there be a consequence for what he did? He can’t just get away with that, can he?”
So just use that “sacred pause” for a moment and think about what happened and what effect it might have on the offending child. He might just decide not to hurt Sally again because his awareness of her feelings was brought to his attention at a time when he was not in a defense mode out of fear for himself, but at a time when he could safely listen to her and maybe, just maybe, understand her.
We can’t force our children to be nice, to be kind, to be truthful. They have to want to be that way out of goodness and compassion. Blame and fear stand in the child’s way of being free to be all he can be as he interacts with others. Greeting children with an accepting heart gives them chances to learn how to behave appropriately and reasons for wanting to.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher