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.

On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

The Medium is the Message

Screen time update: A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about screen time at our house. I wrote about how Zachary was frustrated when it came time to turn off the computer after his daily 15-minute screen time allotment, and how he had found a healthy outlet in crying.

I wish I could report that he had either developed the ability to turn off the screen without getting upset, or had at least continued to cry without escalating to anger. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), after a few days of harmless crying, he became aggressive at the end of screen time. After three days of dealing with his behavior, I explained my decision and my reasoning, and pulled the plug.

Today is day #1 of no screen time, and it happens to coincide with the first day of Spring break. He had a huge fit in the morning when he asked to watch a video and I reminded him of the decision. He got angry and tried to throw things, so Tom, my husband, stopped him and moved him to his room so he wouldn’t break anything (all he has there are clothes).

A few minutes later, Tom asked me to take over because he wasn’t feeling capable of handling the situation. I hugged Zachary and rocked him in my lap as he cried. It took him a while to get his anger out, but he did. He’s asked to watch a video three times, and all three times I’ve stood my ground firmly and with lots of love. His anger has diminished almost to zero, so now we’re ready to talk about what screen time can do to the brain and how the brain responds.

I’ve made a special space high up in a kitchen cabinet for ALL electronics, and that’s where they’ll stay any time the children are around. A friend and fellow Montessori guide told me that she and her husband treat their cell phones like old-fashioned land lines and keep them stationary when they are home. If the phone rings, they walk over, answer it, and then return it to its place. We’re going to do the same.

I thought limited screen time would work at our house. It doesn’t. Screen time is convenient, let’s not kid ourselves. Many shows are cute and seem harmless – even educational! But when it comes to children (and even adults), the medium is the message. And from now on, I’m thinking a lot more carefully about what message my children are receiving.

Uncategorized

Hands Behind Your Back

From the time we were pre-schoolers, my brother and I constantly visited world-class museums and galleries with my parents. There was one rule that we were expected to adhere to without fail: hands behind your back. For us, “hands behind your back” meant: “We trust you and believe that you deserve to be in this beautiful and inspiring place. Show us that you can be trusted.” Even now, whenever I enter a museum or a store that sells fragile things, my hands swing instinctively behind my back.

Flash forward a few decades… As a Montessori guide in Primary (3-6) classroom, the message I wanted to transmit to my students was a similar one: “I trust you to control your impulses while observing someone working with a material. I trust you to respect the right of other children to work and concentrate.” A child who is able to observe with his hands behind his back understands that his rights end where someone else’s begin. He has internalized a concept that many adults still struggle to understand.

hands1
My son Zachary, choosing to observe at the park…
hands2
A friend’s 2.5-yr old daughter, who has attended Montessori school since she was 18 months old.

The younger we set up these expectations, and the more consistent we are, the more successful a child will be at developing self-control. In the Montessori Toddler and Primary environments, “hands behind your back” is one of the first Grace & Courtesy lessons given. The adults model proper observation etiquette for the youngsters, and will offer gentle reminders. The new children quickly learn to put their hands behind their backs, not because they are being forced to by an adult, but because nobody likes to be told by an irate classmate: “Don’t touch my work!

When a child puts his hands behind his back, he is saying that he respects the other person’s work and expects the same courtesy in return.  Putting one’s hands behind one’s back is always a choice, a subjugation of one’s impulses in the interest of social harmony.  There are times for interacting and there are times for observing; Montessori children learn to tell the difference and make conscious choices on their own at a very early age.

We are often quick to doubt a child’s capacity for self-control. It’s very easy, almost automatic, to say: “You can’t watch her work because you’ll be tempted to grab her material.” Or, “You can’t go into that store because you’ll break something.” It’s much harder to look a child in the eye and say: “I believe in you; show me you believe in yourself.”