6 - 12, Favorite Books, Nature, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

The Entitlement Myth

A few weeks into his first-grade year, my formerly sweet and relatively cooperative son began acting sassy, cocky, and entitled.  Requests for help were met with groans and eye-rolls.  Limits were countered with sighs and “whatever“s.

We gave him the benefit of a doubt: Surely he was just imitating his older classmates’ rude behaviors.  Or maybe this was a misguided attempt at being more independent.  All my friends’ children were acting the same way, so it was probably a developmental phase.  Regardless of the reason, I dealt with entitled children all day long at work and  I wasn’t about to put up with the same behaviors from my son at home.

My husband and I gave Zachary a speech about behavioral expectations in our family.  He gave us a sigh and an eye-roll.  This was going to be harder than I thought…

A quick Google search on books about childhood entitlement led me to “The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-By-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Children in an Over-Entitled World”.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book revolves around the principles of Positive Discipline, which I’ve used for years.

The first practical suggestion for countering entitlement is called “Mind, Body, and Soul Time” (MBST).  It requires each parent to set aside just ten minutes a day to “be fully present in mind, body, and soul and do whatever your child loves to do.”

Ten minutes a day sounded like a paltry amount of time until I started seeing the day from my son’s perspective.  From wake-up to bedtime, I was always busy with something – too busy to spend ten minutes one-on-one with him.

When he woke up, I was making breakfasts, packing lunch boxes, and getting everyone out the door on time.  Even though Zachary and I spent the day together at school, we were always surrounded by other children and adults.  Then at 5pm it was a mad rush to pick up his sister, drive home, get dinner made in 15 minutes, and sit down for ten minutes to eat as a family.  My husband would read the kids a book and tuck them in while I cleaned the kitchen, answered work emails, and planned the following day’s lessons.  Our life ran on a strict timetable and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find ten minutes to just be with him without sacrificing some essential task and sending the whole house of cards crashing down.

Three months after reading the book, we decided as a family to walk away from the madness of our lifestyle.  We shifted into the slow pace of unstructured homeschooling and discovered something we never had before: TIME.

Without the need to wake up at 6am, my son could go to bed later.  And without the need to hurriedly clean the kitchen and answer work emails, I could spend time with him.  And so, I started reading to him for an hour each night (his favorite thing to do).

Within a week, my husband pointed out, “Zachary is so much happier.”  It was true: my little boy began to laugh again.  Then, we noticed another change.  He became physically affectionate.  The child who had been pulling away from us began moving back into our lives.  He started folding his 4’4″, 70 lb. frame into our laps, requesting snuggles.  Or he’d jump into our arms and wrap his arms and legs around us in a full-body hug.

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And then, about a month in, we noticed it.  The entitlement, sass, and attitude had disappeared almost completely.  Requests for help were now met with an agreeable attitude; limits were either accepted or discussed rationally.  We even started hearing a phrase we’d never heard from him before: “How can I help?”

Sure, he has his moments, especially when he’s hungry or tired.  But overall, he’s a different child.

He’s a different child because I’m a different mother and we lead a different lifestyle.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that everyone should drop what they’re doing and homeschool.  But we need to stop justifying rudeness and entitlement as “normal” parts of growing up.  These behaviors are cries for help from little beings who are evolutionarily primed to connect.  So please, find those ten minutes, before it’s too late.

“The impulse to be good arises less from a child’s character than from the nature of a child’s relationships. If a child is ‘bad’, it’s the relationship we need to correct, not the child.” – Gordon Neufeld, “Hold On to Your Kids”

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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.

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.

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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?”

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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!”

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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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Say It and Mean It

Do you know someone who makes promises (be they good or bad) and never delivers?  How do you feel about that person?  When we use empty promises or threats to get our children to comply, in their eyes we become that person. 

Sure, manipulation works really well.  But only for a while.  And it comes at a terrible cost: your child’s willingness to trust and believe you.

What would happen if we were forced to follow through on every single promise and threat we made to our children?  We’d pay a lot more attention to our words. 

As the mother of a 16-month old, I know how tempting and easy it is to manipulate a child.  But I also know how destructive it can be.  That’s why I challenge myself every day to “say what I mean and mean what I say.”

Here’s a one-day challenge: Don’t change your strategies, just listen to your words and look at your actions.  And let me know what you discover.

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Show & Tell

It might seem like Montessori parents like to show off what their children can do: “Look, my baby can drink from a glass!  My toddler can slice a cucumber!”  But honestly, our excitement has nothing to do with bragging.  At least for me, sharing my son’s accomplishments is about telling other people: “Look what YOUR child is capable of, and imagine the sense of competence YOUR child can develop!”

Parents who are new to Montessori often observe a classroom and think: “My child would never fit in.  He’s not capable of doing what those children can, or of behaving like those children do.”  I want you to know that, although all children develop at their own pace, your child CAN become self-sufficient at an early age.  Why is this important?  Because research confirms that children whose independence is supported feel capable of dealing with life’s challenges, have a higher sense of self-worth, and tend to have a more intrinsic motivation to learn.

Remember, too, that it’s never too late to modify your approach if you realize you have been holding back your child.  You might get some resistance at first, but if you know what every child is capable of, it will be easier for you to transmit trust and confidence to your child.

Here’s a great perspective from the book “Positive Discipline: The First Three Years” by Jane Nelsen:

When a baby is born, she is all but helpless.  It takes days, weeks, and months before she learns to control her own movements, reach and grasp, and walk on her own.  In her early weeks and months, your job as her parent is to keep her safe, to tend to her needs, to comfort her when she cries, and to be patient – very patient.  But as she grows into toddlerhood, you may be surprised at how much she can do that can help her develop a sense of capability.  On the other hand, if you do too much for her (in the name of love), she is likely to form the belief that she is not capable… Words alone are not powerful enough to build a sense of competence and confidence in children.  Capability comes from experiences of accomplishment and self-sufficiency, and from developing solid skills.

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Ca-ching!

Fellow Montessori mom and friend Amy, over at Positively Montessori, shares her experiences with the Positive Discipline approach to parenting.  Every week she addresses a new topic and discusses how it’s been working at her household with her 6-yr. old daughter and 15-month old son.

Here’s a post on helping children understand the value of money.  It offers some great ideas that take the power struggle out of buying toys, teach through natural consequences, and highlight the joy of giving.  

Do you have any other tried-and-true suggestions for teaching children about managing money?