On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning, Theory and Practice

The Good Struggle

This morning, let’s talk about compassion (identifying our common struggles) and empathy (letting others know they’re not alone).

Raise your hand if you want your child to show compassion and empathy for others.  OK, that’s pretty much everyone in the audience.  Put your hands down.

Now, raise your hand if you want your child to suffer.  Anyone?  Anyone?  *crickets*

Most of us agree that it’s painful to watch our child get hurt (physically or emotionally). So painful, in fact, that it triggers the Mama or Papa Bear in us and we come out swinging against the person or situation that is causing our child pain.

But, what if I told you that suffering is at the root of compassion and empathy?  

Really. Uncomfortable. Thought.

I get it.  So, let’s leave our children’s suffering aside for a moment, because I have a story to tell you about my own journey towards compassion.  Before I became a mom, I thought that parents who, in my lofty opinion, didn’t have their act together deserved zero compassion.  ZERO.

I had a long list of parenting choices I would never make (screens, junk food, yelling at my kids) and I had an even longer list of behaviors my children would never exhibit (because they were going to be Montessori children).  I looked down my nose at those “hot mess” moms and their unruly kids who broke my rules for a perfect life.

And so, of course, the gods sent me two beautiful, loud, demanding, free-spirited children to take me down a notch or fifty.  Now, after seven years of being dragged through the parenting rodeo, I’m a proud card-carrying member of the Hot-Mess Moms club.

Do I still judge other moms?  Yes.  For about two seconds.  But then a voice inside me says, “Psst.  Girlfriend… Take a look in the mirror!”  That’s the voice of compassion. (I thought the voice of compassion would sound like Pema Chodron.  Yeah, no.)  When I hear that voice, my resistance to accepting my own imperfect humanity and that of others melts away.

Now here’s the thing: My lack of compassion for other parents stemmed not from being a bad person, but from not having lived through the struggles of parenthood.

So how does all this tie back to our children?  Well, if we want them to feel compassion, we need to let them connect with the struggles of others by letting them struggle a little bit themselves.

And if we want them to learn how to show empathy, we need to connect empathically with them post-struggle.  Let’s put aside our “I told you so’s” and “You’re OK’s”… When we suffer, all we want to hear and know is “You’re not alone.”

compassion-suffering

 

 

3 - 6, 6 - 12, Favorite Books, On Parenting, Siblings, Sleep, Social and Emotional Learning

BOTW: Good-Night Yoga

good night yogaOn a recent date night at a local bookstore (exciting, I know), my husband came across Good-Night Yoga: A Pose-By-Pose Bedtime Story.  Neither of us practice yoga, but we’d been trying to find activities we can do as a family in the evenings that will engage both a three-year-old and a seven-year-old AND that will help us transition peacefully into the bedtime routine.

We’ve been reading and yoga-ing with this book a couple of evenings a week for the past month, and it’s become on of our favorite evening activities!  The kids love the illustrations and poses, and my husband and I love that it’s fun but not over-stimulating.  The kids have a great time watching their dad wobble through the balance poses, and I can see their body awareness improving with consistent practice.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly way to wind down after a busy day, then I encourage you to find a place on your bookshelf for Good-Night Yoga!

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Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning, Theory and Practice

The Puzzle-Child

Over the years of working in Montessori classrooms I’ve met many children who are eager to attend lessons, engage in follow-up work, and share their new knowledge.  And then there are the occasional “puzzles” (as my son’s Primary guide once referred to him).  How do you know if you live or work with a puzzle-child?

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Puzzle-children are those for whom learning comes easily but who see most teaching as a hindrance to their own learning agenda. On a good day, they grumpily humor your agenda for a short while and then stealthily slink away to pursue their own interests.  But most days, your invitation will send them into fight/flight/freeze mode: they either become argumentative (fight), run away from you (flight), or shut down (freeze), refusing to speak or make eye contact.

I used to think puzzle-children felt intimidated by the work or lacked the desire to learn.  But these children aren’t insecure or apathetic – quite the contrary!  I started taking the time to connect with puzzle-children to understand why they rejected lessons, and the phrase they said again and again was: “I already know that.”  Upon gentle prodding, it became clear that indeed, they did understand the concepts I was trying to present.

Puzzle children don’t care about your ego. In fact, in a battle of egos, theirs will always win.  They don’t care about sitting politely through your carefully planned presentation or showing you what they know.  They don’t care about your album sequence, the state standards, or your lesson plan.  They know what they want to learn, and they know they can use you as a resource to overcome any gaps in knowledge that pop up as they pursue their own explorations.

And that right there is the key to engaging successfully with a puzzle-child.  You have to be like a floor lamp: present but unobtrusive, and willing to shed light on whatever topic the puzzle-child approaches you about.  The puzzle-child will often be found with his nose in a book; tinkering with random objects; or using Montessori materials in ways that might seem sacrilegious at first but that, upon closer inspection, constitute legitimate intellectual explorations.

Conversations are essential for connecting with the puzzle-child.  But you have to watch your tone of voice: puzzle-children detect the moment you switch to a “teacher” voice, and in that instant you’ve lost them.  They also detect when you’re trying to quiz them.  You’re better off assuming they’re already experts. Use precise terminology when chatting with them; rest assured they’ll pepper you with questions if they don’t know what you’re talking about!

Puzzle-children love stories and experiments, and they are cosmic thinkers (meaning they’re able to effortlessly make connections among seemingly unrelated topics).  They’re autodidacts who focus on a topic until they have filled their cup. And then, just as quickly as the interest blossomed, it seems to disappear (but rest assured that the knowledge remains).

For puzzle-children and their adults, the most difficult times are those when the puzzle-child is between interests.  They’re often restless and irritable, flitting from one activity to another.  This is an important time for puzzle-children, and one should not jump in to fill the void with busy work or adult teaching agendas.  For it is precisely the space and boredom of their aimless roaming that will help them find their next “big thing”.

Puzzle-children don’t need to be taught how to learn.  If anything, they need to be protected from well-meaning adults who want to impose their teaching methods at the expense of the puzzle-child’s creativity and resourcefulness.  It’s a blow to the adult’s ego not to be needed, especially when your entire identity rests on being a transmitter of knowledge.

For teachers and parents of puzzle-children, it’s time to change that identity and protect these powerful and eccentric learners.  Help the puzzle-child learn how to communicate their needs and let them know you’re there as a resource.  Prepare their environment with quality books and essential Montessori materials. Provide open-ended tinkering, building, crafting and drafting materials.  Go outside together and explore nature through their eyes.  Listen, observe, document, trust, and wait.  Be flexible, creative, and honest, and above all, be genuine.  Follow the child.

“Our care of the children should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

 

On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

Entitlement: Been There, Done That

Few things trigger me more than interacting with a child who has an entitled attitude.  rich-kidWhy?  Because I was one of them.  I grew up in a traditional Mexican upper-middle-class family, with a stay-at-home mom and two maids who did all the housework so we didn’t have to.  I never did my laundry, tidied my room, or set a table.  Those things just happened!

When I was 18, my mom went back to school and decided that I needed to learn how to run a home.  One night, my dad was coming home a bit later than usual, my mom had class, and the maids were gone, so I was tasked with re-heating my dad’s dinner.  With the burner on high, I stirred the tomato sauce and thought, How will I know when it’s ready?  It eventually burned and my dad had to eat charred tomato sauce on his pasta.  I remember the feelings of shame and incompetence that washed over me as I watched him pick through the blackened bits on his plate.

The irony is that I ended up in hotel management school in Switzerland, which is like Practical Life boot camp for rich kids.  Within weeks I went from not knowing how to boil water to cooking coq au vin; from not knowing how to make my bed to mastering hospital corners; from not knowing how to set a table to prepping a banquet room for 350 people.  My teachers were kind, but they also had high expectations and only a few short months to prepare us for demanding industry internships.

After 12-hour shifts scrubbing pots and pans, I would drag myself to my dorm, body aching but self-confidence bolstered by what I had accomplished.  During my three six-month internships, I sometimes cried in the bathroom after getting chewed out by the head chef, but then I’d wash my face, put on my apron, and continue plucking thousands of chicken feathers or slicing tray after tray of tomatoes.

The resilience, growth mindset and grit that define my adult personality were not developed in my posh private high school or in my comfortable childhood home.  They came from three bone-crushing and character-building years of meaningful work, high expectations, and caring guidance.

Meaningful work.  High expectations.  Caring guidance.  These are the three cornerstones for the development of true self-worth.  They’re also inherent in the work children do in Montessori environments (both in school and at home).  When we do things for our children that they can do for themselves, we rob them of the experiences that will help them forge strength of character, develop autonomy, and lead fearless lives.

PS: About a decade ago, my father lost his business in one of Mexico’s financial crises, and my mom had to go into the workforce to support them.  She works long hours and doesn’t have time to cook, so my father was forced to prepare the meals.  He’s now a passionate home chef who pours over elaborate recipes and has found self-worth through cooking amazing meals.  It’s never too late to transform your life through meaningful work.

On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

You’re Not Alone

As children, we learned to deal with our big emotions by seeing how our parents handled theirs.  My mom chose the “nothing’s wrong so put on a happy face” route, while my dad preferred the “slam a door and punch a hole in the wall” approach.

After trying out both strategies, I gravitated towards my dad’s method.  Not surprisingly, I married a lovely man who followed the approach my mom had modeled.

During the first years of both my children’s lives, I fought a long and lonely battle with postpartum depression.  When life as a new parent became scary or imperfect (which was often), I protected myself by getting angry.

From infancy, my son saw me slam doors and throw things as I tried in vain to discharge the pain, confusion and loneliness I felt inside.  By the time he was 18 months old, he was throwing toys when he got angry.  Door-slamming soon followed.

For the first five years of my son’s life I refused to accept that I – with all my knowledge of child development – was responsible for how my child was reacting to his own pain.  Then one day it finally dawned on me that avoiding responsibility was making both of us slaves to the behavior.

I knew I had to start with my own life, so I took on the challenge of forgiving my parents and myself for my lack of effective emotional coping skills.  Then, I began to study the sources of perfectionism and shame that were causing my pain and driving my reactions.  I started meditating when I could, quit spending time on social media, learned how to set effective boundaries, read all I could about self-regulation and vulnerability, and began taking better care of myself.

As my toolkit grew, I knew I was now ready to help my son.  I didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity.  One night, my six-year-old boy got angry with his dad because it was bedtime and he wouldn’t read him another chapter of “James and the Giant Peach”.  I was downstairs cleaning the kitchen when I heard the bedroom door slam shut.

In the past, my son’s outbursts had angered me because they highlighted my imperfect parenting skills.  I had convinced myself that every thrown toy or slammed door was an indication of just how miserably I was failing as a parent.  However, armed with my new skills and perspective, I knew things could end differently.

I still felt triggered as I walked up the stairs, but I breathed out the anxiety and a question emerged in my mind: “How would I want someone to act towards me if I were feeling rejected and guilty?”  As Brené Brown says, “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice.  In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.” 

I found my son sulking on the floor outside his bedroom.  I sat down and gently said, “I heard a door slam.  What’s going on?”

He looked at me with the eyes of a wounded animal.  “Daddy won’t read me another chapter,” he moaned.

I took a breath, then gently recapped: “It’s time for bed and daddy stopped reading, so you got angry and slammed the door.”  He nodded and looked at the floor in shame, bracing for my lecture.  But instead I said, “You know, I’ve done that too.”

He looked up, wide-eyed.  I continued, “I’ve gotten angry, really REALLY angry.  I’ve slammed a lot of doors hoping it would help me feel better.  But then… I still feel angry.”  He nodded and I went on, “And on top of that I feel guilty for slamming the door.”

He didn’t move, but as I put my hand on his back and gently stroked him, I felt the anger leaving his body.  We sat together for a minute, and then I asked, “How do you think you might make things better?”  He shrugged, so I said, “Can I suggest something?”  He nodded.  “Well, maybe you can go back inside, apologize to daddy for slamming the door, and ask him to wake you up extra-early.  That way you have time to read another chapter together before school.  Do you think that can work?”

He thought about it for a bit, nodded and got up.  I hugged him and he bravely walked back into the room.  I heard him apologize and offer the early wake-up suggestion.  I prayed my husband wouldn’t go into lecture mode, and he thankfully responded by agreeing with my son’s idea.

I’ve since had several more opportunities with my son to witness the power of saying “Me too.”  Every time I use the phrase, I see connection overcoming shame. It reminds both of us that we’re all imperfect and it lets him know that he’s never, ever alone.

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Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

A Deep Understanding

When I became a mom, I realized that it takes a parent to understand a parent.  I have been blessed to have a worldwide community of Montessori-trained friends who are navigating the same beautiful, yet often turbulent, waters of parenthood with me.

One of my wisest friends is Junnifa Uzodike, the founder of the Nduoma Montessori blog.  She contacted me through my blog some years ago, when she was beginning her Montessori journey, and we have shared countless conversations about motherhood and Montessori.

What sets Junnifa apart is her adherence to the Montessori philosophy against all odds.  Through two international moves, several summers of intense training, and three pregnancies she remains steadfast in her study and application of Montessori.  If she can do it, you can too!  That’s why I’m proud to share Junnifa’s newest e-course, Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler.

Junnifa has agreed to share some of her deep wisdom in this interview.  Enjoy!

*****

Please tell us about yourself and your family.

My name is Junnifa Uzodike. I live in Nigeria with my husband and we have 3 children: Solu, aged 3.5; Metu, aged 2;  and a baby who will be here in a few weeks. Our parenting has been guided by the Montessori philosophy and we have implemented as much as we can, from conception, with each of our children.

junni-bikes

Can you share your Montessori journey with us?

I discovered Montessori rather serendipitously. My mother, who is an educator and school owner, was visiting the U.S. and wanted to observe some schools in the area where I lived. One of the schools was a Montessori school and I happened to have accompanied her. Observing the children has such an immense impact on me. I was amazed at the beauty and order of the environment as well as the independence and the concentration of the children. It was literally life-changing for me. I went home and ordered all the Montessori books available in my local library. I also signed up for an “Introduction to Montessori” course which only increased my interest and admiration for the philosophy.

 My desire to learn more led me to quit my management job at Fortune 500 company and enroll in the AMI 0-3 training. My first son was born soon after and seeing the effect of our parenting choices on his development only made me want more. I have gone on to complete the AMI 3-6 training as well as the RIE (Resource for Infant Educarers) Foundations course. Since giving birth to my children, I have mostly stayed home with them. I have also consulted for schools, worked with parents, run parent- child classes and briefly led a toddler class. My training and experience so far have shown me the importance of the first three years in laying the foundation for the rest of the child’s life and so I get the most joy from supporting parents as they guide their children through these crucial years.
junni-cooking
What are the three most important pieces of advice that have helped you in your parenting journey?
Observe before you react.
I have found that when I pause before reacting to my children’s actions, it gives me a chance to see, to understand, to evaluate and most especially to compose myself. It allows me to respond respectfully with understanding instead of reacting and a lot of times, it allows me realize I don’t even have to respond or react.
Model instead of teaching.
I grew up with a lot of verbal admonishing and lecturing and I sometimes catch myself defaulting to that but my children have confirmed to me that children absorb what we model and not what we say. They do what they see me doing, talk how they see me talking, and respond the way I respond. When I notice negative behaviors, I can usually reflect to see who has been modeling that to them. We talk a lot about preparing the environment and I think the adult is a very important part of the environment so we must prepare ourselves so that we are modeling what we want the child to be.
“This too shall pass!”
Sometimes children go through stages that just make no sense and we try everything and it’s just not working. It is important to not overreact because our negative reaction might stay with the child consciously or unconsciously even longer that whatever stage he is going through. I have found that taking deep breaths and just chanting “this too shall pass” in my head helps me until it passes because it always does!
junni-plane
Why did you decide to create the “Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler” e-course?
I created the course to share this gift that I have been given. The AMI Montessori training courses cost a lot financially and otherwise ( I had to move to two different countries and be separated from my husband). I realize that not everyone can take the courses and really, not everyone needs to. So I wanted to provide access to the information that is useful to parents.
I also created the course because I found that a lot of the information and resources that were available focused on the periphery of the philosophy and did not really go into the core or the essence. Parenting the Montessori way is not about Pinterest-worthy rooms or wooden toys. It’s about understanding the child’s true needs and supporting them as best we can. This can be done regardless of where you are and what you have. This is what I really want to communicate in the course. I think that a deep understanding of the child gives us new eyes and that allow us to see the child for who he truly is…
junni-table
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Junnifa, thank you for taking the time to share your journey with us!  If you’re ready to embark on your own Montessori journey to help guide your child’s development, sign up now for Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler.  Just click the link and change your life, because the “terrible two’s” don’t have to be so terrible!
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Social and Emotional Learning

Safe Haven

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A recent visitor from Russia gifted our classroom with a truly exquisite set of nesting dolls, the smallest of which was no larger than the fingernail on my pinky.  All the children were curious about the dolls, but Annie, a nine-year-old who was new to our classroom, was truly enamored by the set.  Between academic activities, she would spend time lining up the dolls and then nesting them again.

I was absent for a few hours on Tuesday morning, and by Wednesday three boys made the discovery that the six smallest dolls had disappeared.  Accusatory fingers immediately pointed towards Annie and indignant voices clamored for justice.  I quickly gathered the nearly two dozen 6-to-12-year-olds into a circle, took a breath to steady my emotions, and with a peaceful and positive attitude said:

“As most of you know, our generous visitor from Russia recently gave us a beautiful set of nesting dolls.  They are really charming, aren’t they?  I can see that many of you are attracted to them!  It has been brought to my attention that several dolls are missing.  I understand how someone could fall in love with those pretty little dolls and want them all to themselves.  And you see, those dolls belong to the classroom. They are a precious addition to our treasures.  So, if someone borrowed them, I’m going to ask that you please bring them back so that we can all enjoy their beauty.  In order to ensure that the person who has them can return them anonymously, I’m going to ask that he or she put them inside the cabinet under the sink while we’re all outside at recess.”

“Why?’ asked one child.  “Why don’t you just tell them to give them back right now?”

“That person might be feeling a bit embarrassed by their choice,” I replied.  “And some people are feeling very emotional by the absence of the dolls.  We want the person who has them to feel safe returning them, and we want him or her to know that nobody is going to say things in anger that they would later regret.”

A seven-year-old boy piped up in solidarity, “OK!  Everyone stay outside during recess!  Nobody should be watching the room!”

Suddenly, I heard a little voice say, “I’m really embarrassed.”  I turned to where the voice was originating and saw Annie grinning sheepishly, her knees curled up to her chest.

“Why, Annie?” I asked.

“I’m really embarrassed because I took them just for a day but I accidentally left them in my therapist’s office.  I’m sorry, I’ll bring them back next week when I go to therapy again.”

Her cheeks were flushed.  The children were dead silent.

“Annie, I appreciate your honesty,” I said with a smile.  “I’m glad the dolls are safe and I know we’ll all be happy to have them back in the classroom.”  Annie smiled back with a mixture of relief and gratitude. I felt the entire group relax, secure in the notion that where one child is safe to make mistakes, all are safe.

With my heart singing, I brought out our read-aloud book and transitioned the class towards a new activity, knowing that many profound and powerful lessons had been learned by us all.

Favorite Books, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

Making Peace with Star Wars

My husband and I put a lot of effort into keeping our home free from violent media influences.  It’s an uphill battle that we’re committed to fighting, and one that sometimes requires a little creative thinking.

Zachary’s male classmates (ages 3 and 4) are fascinated by Star Wars.  Yes, you read right: ages 3 and 4, not 13 and 14.  They know all the characters, all the spaceships, and, of course, all the violence that goes with it.  Zach would come home every day, his head a jumble of confusion: Who is Star Wars?  Is he a good guy or a bad guy?  Does Luke Skywalker walk on the sky?  What does a light saber do?  Can it kill you?  If it kills you, are you dead?  Is Darth Vader a bad guy or a good guy?

We were very frustrated by this turn of events and found it difficult to answer his questions without confusing him even more.  We told him Star Wars was a “once-upon-a-time” story, explained that what his friends called “bad guys” are really people who were feeling sad or angry and didn’t know what to do with their feelings, and allowed him to buy a plastic light saber (with his own money, of course!) so he could see that it was just a harmless toy.  But still, the confusion reigned supreme and overshadowed all his other interests.

I kept wishing there were a book that summarized the basics of the Star Wars story without the violence inherent to the plot.  I searched fruitlessly for weeks, until – just before Father’s Day – I came across Darth Vader and Son.  Stroke. Of. Genius.

darthIt features 4-year-old Luke Skywalker (the same age as Zachary) engaging with his sometimes clueless and exasperated dad, Darth Vader, in many of the same scenarios that my son and his dad experience week to week.  The “I-don’t-have-to-pee” dance; the “I-won’t-pick-up-my-toys” battle… You get the idea.

It’s gentle enough for my very innocent 4-year-old to enjoy, and yet it has lots of references to the movie series, which my Star Wars-loving hubby really appreciated!

The mystique of Star Wars quickly faded from Zachary’s mind once he and his dad had read the book a few times.  Now, they quote bits from the book when the real-life situation mirrors what Luke and Darth experienced, and they share a laugh.

We might not always win the battle against mainstream media influences, but in this case, the force was with us!!

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Favorite Books, Montessori Materials, On Parenting, Practical Life, Science, Social and Emotional Learning

Food for Thought

I’m reading an excellent book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, published in 1978. The author is not a scientist, and never claims to be. He doesn’t have answers, just observations and questions that most of us have never even thought to ponder.
 
There’s a section that talks about how television messes with your senses.
 
Think about it: On your screen, you’re watching a shot of two people walking on a distant hillside, yet you can clearly hear what they’re saying (when in reality you shouldn’t). But what you can’t hear are the ambient sounds that your brain would normally expect to hear if you were standing where the scene is being shot. Meanwhile, you’re “smelling some chicken roasting in the kitchen and you’re drinking a beer.”
 
The author points out that, “Television has attached two of your sensory modes to a distant spot, altered their natural arrangement to each other, but left other aspects of your sensory apparatus at home in present time… [This] takes on importance when we understand that the average person submits to this condition for four hours every day [it’s currently five for adults, 4.5 for kids], and while in this state is receiving important information about life. All of the information is narrowed to fit the sensory transmission limits of the medium and distorted by the sensory disconnections in the human.
 
“One can imagine the emergence of a new psychological syndrome: ‘sensory schizophrenia.’ The cure will involve exercises to resynchronize wildly confused senses with each other, with the mind, and with the world.”
 
The author’s 1978 description of “sensory schizophrenia” immediately made me think of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), defined in the book The Out-Of-Sync Child as “a common problem in which the central nervous system misinterprets messages from the senses.” So, I tried seeing if any studies had been done on the relationship between TV and SPD. None. Yay science.
 
What I DID find were several forum threads where parents discuss their SPD child’s relationship with TV. In every single thread, over and over, parents mentioned how, from the time their kids were babies, they fed them while the child watched TV. They also mention how at home they have the TV on ALL THE TIME because the adult likes (needs?) background noise.
 
The author’s suggested cure, “exercises to resynchronize wildly confused senses” made me think of Montessori’s beautiful Practical Life and Sensorial materials, which engage all of the senses and help re-center (or indeed, “normalize”) the child.
 
Food for thought… (Just don’t eat it in front of the TV.)
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On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

Manic Brain

When I decided that screen time would no longer be a part of my 4-year-old’s life, I knew I would have to deal with screen detox.  The first day of Spring Break was also the first day of the “No More Screens” rule.  Almost immediately after waking up, Zach asked to watch videos.  I said no and reminded him of the new rule.  He got very angry and cried.  I acknowledged his feelings and stood my ground firmly and with love.  When he calmed down, we had breakfast and played trains while the baby napped.

When his play was winding down, he again asked for videos.  I said no.  He cried but seemed less frustrated.  We had lunch and read some books while the baby again napped.  Later that afternoon, he asked for videos again.  I said no.  He didn’t cry.  At that point, I knew he was ready to listen.

I said, “You know that inside your head you have something called your brain, and that’s what you use to think, learn, and solve problems.  When you watch vgiphyideos, your brain is like this…” I made quick panting noises while shaking my head manically from side to side.  He smiled.

I continued, “When we turn off the videos, your brain is still going like this…” I again made the manic gestures, and he laughed.  “The problem is that the rest of the world doesn’t move as quickly as the videos, so your brain makes you feel angry because it wants things to move quickly again.  You have a wonderful brain; it’s a brain that can learn a lot and can solve problems.  My job is to help you keep your brain healthy and calm so that it can think and make good decisions.  And that’s why I decided that you can’t watch videos anymore.”  He thought about what I said but didn’t have any questions.

The rest of our Spring Break week passed without a single request for videos, and with lots of wonderful work and play.  I had my gentle, sweet, and mostly cooperative son back.

Today was the first day of school, and I knew he’d ask to watch videos because screen time had been a part of his after-school routine.  He came through the door after school and videos were the first thing on his mind.  I said no.  He asked why.  I repeated my “manic brain” explanation and offered an audiobook and a trip to the park as alternatives.  He happily accepted, and we had a fun afternoon.

During dinner, my husband asked Zach if he’d felt excited today about seeing his friends again after the break.  Zach said, “When I saw my friends this morning, my brain felt like when I watched videos.”  And that’s when I knew he understood.  Metacognition at four years of age.  Never underestimate a child.