Supporting Independence

“I wish they would stay at this age forever,” commented the father of one-year-old twins.

“My little boy is growing up too fast,” lamented a friend on Facebook.

“If I wean my baby, I feel like I’m losing my connection with her,” a fellow mom admitted.

We can’t deny that from the moment of birth, our babies demonstrate an unstoppable drive towards functional and intellectual independence.  A few moments after leaving the womb, if given the right environmental conditions, babies start working hard to focus their eyes and take in their immediate surroundings.  They struggle mightily to control their limbs and only a few months later begin to roll, crawl, and stand.  They discover food and try eagerly to communicate their desire to partake in mealtimes.

Fast forward a year or so and you’d be deaf to not hear the battle cry of the toddler: “Help me to do it by myself!”  The “terrible twos” are nothing more than the child’s struggle to assert his independence in a world that’s not ready to support it.

The elementary-aged child who has mastered the ability to dress, groom, and feed himself now has another goal in mind: “Help me to think for myself!”  And the adolescent, so much the contrarian at times, simply wants to play an active role in a society that doesn’t acknowledge his potential. walking

If Nature has endowed the human species with this unstoppable drive, then shouldn’t our role as parents be to support it, nurture it, celebrate it, and remove obstacles from its path?

There’s a reason Maria Montessori stressed the importance of reality: it helps us accept life as it is, and not get lost in a fantasy world of things as we wish they could be.  So let’s accept what is happening: our children are growing up.  Instead of fighting Nature and handicapping our children’s development in the process, let’s protect and guide this growth!

Keep your children away from negative media influences that will warp their perspective.  Choose your words wisely so they transmit trust and confidence in their abilities.  Set clear and reasonable limits and enforce them with determination.  Take deep breaths when shoes take ten minutes to get tied, shirts are worn inside-out, plates break, and the pancakes get burned.

Give them time and freedom to explore, discover, make mistakes, deal with consequences, get into problems, find creative solutions, ask for help, assist someone in need, and eventually to discover why they’re on this planet.

Cherish those sweet memories of the past, but leave them there.  Celebrate your child’s present achievements, not with a “good job” but by acknowledging their new abilities and incorporating them into your expectations.  Open your arms wide to receive your child in a hug, but then turn towards the future and spread them even wider to let him fly free.

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12 thoughts on “Supporting Independence

  1. Powerful insights and advice, Pilar! Wonderful that our children are fierce in claiming, protecting and extending their vital drive for independence. As you so wisely point out, it is we make that into a battle by our misunderstanding and reaction. I love that in A to I training instead of the mainstream title of “Terrible Twos,” we call this stage the “Crisis of Self Definition.”

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. I enjoy reading your blog and I think that the overarching theme of this particular post is perfectly wonderful. However, there are people who must live in fantasy and not accept the real world.

    I say, on the last day of black history month, what about the slaves who escaped to freedom? What about the civil rights movement? It was complete fantasy for these people to escape their current situations.

    Any inventors and innovators, really? 200 years ago, it was fantasy for anyone to think they could talk to someone who wasn’t in the room with them. Now it is accepted fact that not only can you talk to them, but neither participant need be home. Several participants can be involved from almost anyplace in the world. We can make Jetson’s phone calls with FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangout, and countless others of which I am unaware.

    I understand that you want parents to enjoy, accept, respect, and encourage their children’s growth and development, but lets not forget that the land of fantasy and those that do not accept reality are those that will change the world. They are the ones who, unaccepting of dissatisfied with reality, will bring about change.

    Maria Montessori taught the uneducable! That began as a task rooted in fantasy because reality indicated that these children couldn’t learn. From her adventures into fantasy-land, she developed a new reality, what is called the Montessori Method.

    1. Dear Dayamonay,

      First of all, thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! You bring up a very interesting issue – one of my favorite theoretical topics, in fact! There is a common misconception between “fantasy” and “imagination”. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I will provide an excerpt from an article I wrote a couple of years ago addressing this exact issue (you can find the entire article here – http://mariamontessori.com/mm/?p=1442 ):

      The definition of fantasy is: “ideas that have no basis in reality”. Fantasy can be a great tool for escape and entertainment for those of us who have a strong grip on reality. However, young children (before the age of 5 or 6) are not able to differentiate between fantasy and reality; a phenomenon that has dire repercussions on their ability to learn and problem-solve.
      “Pretending is largely assimilation of reality to one’s own thoughts, rather than adjustment of one’s own ideas to fit reality,” writes Dr. Angeline Stoll Lillard in Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. Our goal as parents and educators is to give our children a firm grounding in life, so they will be able to deal with whatever challenges come their way, instead burying their heads in the sands of a fantasy world.

      What is fantasy, then? It’s talking mice, ballet-dancing pigs, and a whole host of concepts that – while entertaining and perhaps harmless as bedtime stories – have no room in the type of EDUCATION that has as its main goal the comprehensive development of the child into a creative and resourceful adult.

      Creativity comes through exercising the imagination. From my article:
      How is imagination different from fantasy? Let’s look at the definition of imagination: “1. The ability of the mind to form new and original ideas that have their basis in reality. 2. The ability to be creative and resourceful”.

      Anybody who has achieved anything new has used their ability to imagine; not their ability to fantasize. In Montessori pre-school, we certainly don’t forbid the children from using their imaginations! Quite the contrary: We expect children to understand that we live on a sphere called Earth, that the duck-billed platypus on a card actually exists, and that a letter shaped like this [a] makes a sound “ah” (among countless other abstractions). They can only do this if they use their imagination. But, you will notice, all the concepts we provide are based in reality, because the information we are giving them – which they accept indiscriminately at this age, without questioning or doubting – is building a foundation for the elementary years. After the age of 6, they have a much better ability to apply the knowledge they learned in pre-school towards more abstract questions. At this point in their lives, they are able to differentiate, so we can start using fables to instill moral values without the risk that the only thing the children will take away from the story is that turtles and rabbits like to race each other! Ask yourself, knowing the difference between imagination and fantasy: what benefit can fantasy bring to a pre-school education that is preparing a child to be creative?

      Slaves didn’t fantasize about freedom; they imagined it. Had they fantasized, they still would be slaves. However, they imagined a day when they would be free, based perhaps on the reality that in other countries blacks were free, or based on the reality that their numbers were growing, or that the political sentiment was changing in the North. John Lennon didn’t say: “Fantasize about all the people living life in peace.” He said “imagine”, because he knew it could be possible, the potential existed based on his knowledge of fundamental human nature, but only if people imagined it to be so. Maria Montessori didn’t fantasize about a new approach to education; she imagined it based on the reality before her!!! She took what she saw (reality), had a vision of something better (imagination) based on the reality of work done by those before her – including Seguin and Itard, applied what she knew (knowledge based on reality), and brought her vision to life.

      Now, the word “reality” rubs people the wrong way because it connotes a harsh, depressing view of the world – “the harsh realities of poverty/illness/violence/etc.” It’s important to note that what we offer the children from Primary through Elementary are the most positive and optimistic aspects of reality. We show them the beauty of nature and the kindness that resides within the human heart, and help them understand the great potential of every human being – not just the rich, the geniuses, or the famous. Eventually they will come face to face with the “harsh realities of life”, but our goal is to fill them with such a positive vision that they will not only be able to “imagine all the people living life in peace”, but will be the ones to make this a reality.

      I write more about this fascinating issue in part I of my article, found here: http://mariamontessori.com/mm/?p=1396

      My best wishes to you and thank you for reading!

      Pilar Bewley

      1. Hello! I like very much the information about imagination and fantasy that you share on your blog. It is very useful. I found the Montessori world 2 years ago and I am still discovering. I am not yet a parent but I am a beginner 0-3 years old Montessori teacher in Romania. I am very interested if you have some information about the media effects on chioldren under 6. I would be gratefull if you would share your knowledge. Thank you very much! You do a great job, good luck ahead!

  3. Another way of looking at it (besides Pilar’s excellent reply), is to think of it as fantasy being prefabricated and imagination being from within. In today’s world, that’s a simple and basic way of looking at it. Fantasy is based on things that are not of this world, things that go beyond the realm of reality and into fiction, science fiction, etc. Imagination comes from within the human capacity to create in the realm of what is real. There are things we never “imagined” possible, but they were not impossible. It’s is true, that what we may consider certain ideas that are not within our reach in time and history as “fantasy” but it does not make it impossible to attain. In the simplest way, we want a child to have his/her own imagination at work rather than be limited by what someone else has created. The internet and Google was someone’s imagination at work.

  4. On the 3rd bullet point, in the goal of promoting child-driven independence, why would it be up to the mom to wean? Child-led weaning makes more sense to me, in that case, or a mutual agreement within the nursing dyad.

    1. It’s really up to both parties if there’s no reason for early weaning (health-related, etc.). What I am referring to is a mother who feels like her only connection is through nursing, and even though the child might no longer be interested in nursing or might not need it, the mother is the one “pushing the boob” to satisfy her own emotional needs. There are other ways of connecting; supporting a child’s next stage of nutritional and emotional needs requires an even stronger connection and commitment, so let’s not get stuck in a pattern that no longer supports the child’s changing needs, for the mother’s need for “connection”.

      1. I love this topic. Parents always ask me about the difference. My simple explanation is that imagination requires the ability to see the sense behind something real and then be able to build upon that or embellish. On the other hand fantasy is nothing but illusion. From my observations the youngest children especially do nothing with fantasy toys other than bang them together and make noises that they are simply mimicking from video or television. They are going no where developmentally. But when one introduces children to reveal pretend play perhaps with real human figures and animals and some blocks, many many things can happen. Especially when an adult introduces these items and offers just a few simple suggestions and then steps back. I have also observed the children who are lost in fantasy choose only open ended works so that they can sit and get lost in their heads and not do the work. Even so much as setting their chair away and putting the task back on the shelf Is hard for them to remember and they leave the work askew because they are lost in their heads.

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