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

Raising Creative Problem-Solvers

Do you constantly referee children’s disagreements?  Do you tend to side with one child, frustrating the other?  Or do you offer solutions, only to be ignored?  If you’re nodding in response to any of these questions, this will help…

The scenario:

My 4.5-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son share a room.  It’s the only place in the house where they’re allowed to play LEGOs, so the plastic pieces don’t take over ourBLW_Two_Bacchic_Putti_Fighting living room/homeschool area. Both kids love LEGOs, but my older son likes to listen to audiobooks while he builds, and my younger daughter prefers to work in a quiet space.  This causes quite a few arguments and screaming matches. They both came to me frustrated and in need of help to share their living space.  It was the perfect opportunity to engage in problem-solving through brainstorming!

Step 1: State the problem

I asked them a few guided questions to come up with a statement defining the problem.  We determined the problem was “Difficulty building LEGOs at the same time in the same room with different noise preferences.”  Try to state the problem as clearly and precisely as possible, to encourage effective brainstorming.

Step 2: Brainstorm solutions

I told them they were both creative problem-solvers and we’d use their skills to find a solution that works for everyone.  During brainstorming, possible solutions are written down without being evaluated.  Anything goes, even the craziest solutions.  You might have to remind children (and yourself) of this because our brains are wired to immediately weigh solutions for their effectiveness, and it can be hard to sit with the discomfort of what are clearly implausible answers.

If you’re worried that the children will waste your time coming up with useless harebrained solutions, remember that they are motivated to solve their problem.  If you don’t react and just write down their ideas, they’ll eventually refocus on tangible solutions.  Plus, some of those crazy solutions are a great way to let them exercise their imagination (and who knows, they just might work)!  Resist the temptation to offer suggestions, even though you can probably see a clear path towards an amicable solution if they just did what you think is best.  This is their problem, and they have to own the solution by coming up with it.  You can act as the scribe so they can focus on finding solutions.

My children’s brainstorming list included:

  • wear wireless headphones;
  • be allowed to play LEGOs downstairs;
  • lower the volume of the audiobook;
  • take turns using the room (while the other person plays non-LEGO games downstairs);
  • no more audiobooks;
  • put up with the noise;
  • read books downstairs;
  • play in the room together listening to audiobooks part of the time and without audiobooks the other part.

Step 3: Eliminate implausible solutions

Once they’ve exhausted their ideas, review the list with them and tell them that they get to cross out any ideas that don’t meet the following criteria:

  • Respectful (to all involved, including bystanders),
  • Realistic (ideas you can execute within the boundaries of your environment),
  • Related (the solution must attempt to solve the problem)
  • Helpful (improves the lives of all involved)

Keep the process objective by focusing the four criteria.  If a child says, “That idea is dumb,” you can invite them to elaborate by asking, “Is it respectful? Realistic? Related?  Helpful?”  Here you CAN give your opinion, but only after your children have had their turn nixing ideas.  In our situation:

  • They realized that their ideas to “put up with the noise” and “ban audiobooks” weren’t respectful, so they crossed those out.
  • The suggestion to “read books downstairs” wasn’t related to the problem.
  • They’d tried “lowering the volume” in the past, but my daughter was still able to hear it and it meant that my son had to have one ear glued to the device, so that wasn’t realistic.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with my son walking around with wireless headphones all day for several reasons (health, safety, disconnection, etc.), so I mentioned this and we crossed that one out.
  • “Playing LEGOs downstairs” isn’t realistic or respectful because we know from experience that the little plastic pieces quickly overtake our common living/learning area. It goes against the boundaries of our environment, so it was eliminated.

Step 4: Choose one solution from the ones remaining

By the end of this process, the children were down to two solutions: “play in the room together listening to audiobooks part of the time and without audiobooks the other part” and “take turns using the room and playing something else downstairs.”  They chose the latter, and we discussed the details of how that would look (the younger one plays downstairs from wake-up to lunch, and then they switch in the afternoon).  Then I told them that we’d try the solution for one week, and revisit it to make adjustments if necessary.

Step 5: Set them up for success

This is where YOU come in.  Your role is to help them adapt their routine, environment, and expectations so they can stick to the solution for the week.  Without a solid plan, it’s very easy to fall back into old habits (and arguments).  You are there to hold boundaries, remind them of their solution, and empathize if things aren’t working out the way they envisioned.

Solutions are rarely perfect at first, and require fine-tuning.  Observe what’s working and what isn’t, so you can guide their follow-up session.  For example, two days into the trial period, my daughter approached me with a different solution.  I acknowledged her viewpoint, reminded her of our agreement, and told her we would revisit the solution in five more days.

I’ve used this Positive Discipline approach with children in my Montessori environments for years, and after a few guided sessions, the children begin to use it on their own.  It’s a fantastic way to empower them, raise creative critical thinkers, and remove yourself from the middle.  Let me know if you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes.

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.



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 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!


  • 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.)


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?”


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


  • 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.


  • 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.


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!


  • 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.


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!”


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!