On Parenting

Full Bloom

When you’re pregnant, it’s as if you’re handed a seed of unknown origin. You put it in the soil, water it, and give it light. The first seed leaves emerge, and you feel so proud! As the first set of true leaves unfurl, you begin to imagine the possibilities. You’re sure your plant will be a hydrangea, because those are your favorite plants and surely nobody would give you a seed of a plant you don’t like!

But then, much to your surprise, your hydrangea begins to look more and more like a tomato plant. Oh no, tomatoes were never part of your plan! You can choose to be frustrated by your tomato plant; move it into one pot and then another and another, feed it chemical fertilizers, stake it, place it among other hydrangeas in a partly shady area, and pinch off its flowers, all in hopes that it will somehow turn into a hydrangea.

Or, you can observe it. You can notice its delicate yellow flowers, the tiny hairs on its stems, its jagged leaves. You can marvel at the first tiny green tomatoes, and leave it undisturbed where it gets the best sunlight. You can feed it the best organic soil, learn what time of day it likes to be watered, and surround it with other companion plants that attract helpful insects. And you can rejoice when your little tomato plant puts forth luscious, juicy, red fruit. Just as it was meant to do all along.

We don’t get to choose the seed, but we do get to choose how we tend it. What does your seed need in order to blossom? Observe it. It knows.

tomato

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Try This At Home

At a recent parent education meeting at the school where I work, we asked parents to share their parenting challenges and provided some Montessori-based tools that can help bridge the gap between school and home.  It can be confusing for a child to move between two sets of expectations: punishment at home vs. consequences at school; praise at home vs. acknowledgment at school; one set of limits at home and another at school… When the expectations at school and at home are similar, the child will be able to meet and exceed them with less effort and more joy!

Here’s the document I prepared… I hope it helps you in your parenting journey, too!

LIMITS:

Limits are boundaries that give your child order, consistency, and clear expectations.  Within these limits, your child is free to explore and learn about his world.  It is your responsibility as a parent to establish, enforce, and help your child understand your family’s limits.  Children learn about limits by testing them, so mean what you say!

Examples:

  • In our home, all food is consumed at the dining room table.  (At the table, you can choose what to eat from what mom serves for dinner.)
  • In museums and stores, your hands must be behind your back.  (While doing this, you can look at objects, ask questions, or walk around the room.)

 CHOICES:

Limited choices help children feel much needed control over their lives.  Only offer choices you are comfortable with so both you and your child can feel successful!  Too many choices are just as bad as not enough, so start by offering choice in only one area of the child’s life and slowly build from there.  Unless your child is 6+ years old and can handle more variety, offer only two alternatives for each scenario.

YES: “Would you like to wash your hands in the bathroom sink or the kitchen sink?”

NO: “Would you like to wash your hands?”

 *****

YES: “Do you want spaghetti with cheese sauce or tomato sauce?”

NO: “Do you want spaghetti or ravioli, and do you want cheese sauce or tomato sauce?”

CONSEQUENCES:

Natural consequences are outcomes that occur without any human intervention if a person oversteps a limit. 

Examples:

  • If you carry three glasses, you might drop them and they will break.
  • If you don’t pay attention while sewing, you might poke your finger with the needle.

 Logical consequences are outcomes chosen by a person (or group of people) in response to another person overstepping a limit, in order to emphasize the importance of respecting that limit.  Logical consequences should be related to the limit, respectful to all parties, and reasonable in their severity.

Examples:

  • If you tear a leaf off a plant, you are required to spend time caring for the plant.
  • If you step on a work rug, you are required to brush the rug to remove the dirt.

NOTE: Logical consequences are often abused and become a method of punishment.  It is always better to dedicate time to finding a solution to the problem instead of applying a band-aid.

ENVIRONMENT

Little changes to your home environment can have a big impact on your relationship with your child.  Think about your daily battles, make changes to the environment to fix those struggles, and see how easily you can remove yourself from the equation!

Examples:

  • If your toddler throws a tantrum every time you tell him not to touch something fragile… Put away any items that you don’t want him to touch, and replace them with interesting natural objects your child can explore.
  • If your child makes a huge mess with his toys… Put away most of his toys in a closet and only leave out his five favorites on a low shelf he can access without your help.  Rotate toys every few weeks, as interest wanes.
  • If your child only wants to watch TV or play video games… Move the TV to your bedroom, disconnect or put away the computers, and provide choices for age-appropriate activities your child can do without help.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF EFFORT VS. PRAISE FOR ACHIEVEMENT:

Children aim to please the adults they love. If you tell them that you value the end result (first place, the best grades, etc.) they will strive to meet your expectations.  The side effects include: academic paralysis, cheating, and a distorted self-image.

If you send the message that what matters to you is effort, dedication, and learning, they will make this their priority instead.  Side effects include: determination, humility, and a healthy self-esteem. 

YES: “You played that piano piece very well because you practiced every evening without fail!”

NO: “You were the best piano player at the recital!”

******

YES: “I can tell you put a lot of care into your metal inset drawing and chose interesting colors.” 

NO: “You are so good at coloring, good job!”

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Some Light Summer Reading

I was recently asked to make a list of books that help parents understand Montessori, and I realized it would make a good resource on this blog.  Check out the “Recommended Reading” page and feel free to suggest your favorites in the comments!  Happy reading!