Children always show adults what they need. Their natural curiosity and interests lead them to engage in activities that help them learn and grow. Even in misbehavior and acting out, children communicate what they need. It is our job as parents to observe, analyze and follow our children to meet their needs and help them grow.
Montessori on Following the Child
Many parents would love to better understand their children. Following the child is a great way to do this. However, this pillar of Montessori education is often misinterpreted. People think the child is in charge and allowed to do whatever they want. It’s a bit more complex. Let’s take a look.
Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.
Take baby girl for example. She’s 14 months old and likes to go to the bathroom with me. I allow her to, for a number of reasons, and she always tries to put her hands in the toilet. Rather than scolding her, I try to understand her. This is a way to follow her. I search for meaning in her actions. She’s clearly interested in learning about water and the sensory experience it gives her. So, without allowing her to play in the toilet, I offer her an opportunity to play with water outside the bathroom. I set a limit and offer an alternative to fulfill her needs.
Simple enough…but what about those more difficult behaviors?
How To Follow Your Child When it’s Tough
Sometimes our children are frustrating. They do annoying things and can drive us crazy. But, remember:
Except when he has regressive tendencies, the child’s nature is to aim directly and energetically at functional independence.
Even in their anger, tantrums, rolling eyes and upsets, our children are communicating. Many times they are communicating a need for attention. Other times they need boundaries and a safe space. Sometimes they are showing us they have no self discipline and need to learn this skill.
You can follow your child even in these tough times and find ways to draw them back into acting responsibly, carefully and meaningfully. What are some guidelines for following your child during upsets?
1. Notice Feelings and Set Boundaries
When your child is showing big feelings, help them name what they’re feeling. You might say “It looks like you’re very angry,” or “I can tell something’s bothering you.”
If the reason for the upset is a boundary issue, meaning your child wants to do something that’s not allowed, hold your ground. Once your child is calm again, you can find a way to meet your child’s needs without breaking the rules.
2. Be Present Until You Can Connect
Children need space and time to deal with their feelings. In the heat of the moment isn’t usually a good time to suggest better ways to express themselves. Instead, you can let your child know that when they’re ready for a hug or to talk, you’ll be ready. I often let my little peanut cry and get his tantrum out, and then he comes to me for comfort. If I try to cut it off, it just gets worse.
Connecting is a key step after an upset. Your child needs to feel comforted, connected and maybe even have a laugh to feel better again. Connecting shows your child that having those feelings is ok, and that you still love them no matter what.
3. Follow Your Child
After the upset is over, you have the chance to do something about the behavior expressed and ensure that your child’s needs are met.
Let’s imagine your child was upset because you didn’t let them use an electric sander you have in the garage. Perhaps your child wants to use real tools and feel the responsibility of working with something slightly dangerous. These are valid needs. You can plan opportunities for your child to practice hammering, sand pieces of wood to build a birdhouse and similar activities that will allow your child to fulfill these needs without being unsafe.
In other cases, your child may also need some strategies to help deal with big feelings. With little Peanut, we’ve recently been pretending to be angry. We make big angry faces and then one of us takes a BIG breath. Then, we relax and say “I feel better now.” Now, he’s starting to use this strategy when he’s angry. His voice begins to escalate and I say “big breath.” He takes a big breath and then we continue having our conversation about what he wants or needs. It’s much more pleasant. I also do emphasize that it’s ok to be angry and feel upset. Other strategies can include hitting a pillow, taking a break to walk on a line, squeezing a stress ball, etc.
As parents, we must always keep sight of what our children are trying to communicate and where they are leading us. Rather than getting exasperated and leaving it at that, we must take a deeper look, trying to understand the behaviors we are seeing and finding a way to guide our children towards productivity, happiness, grace and courtesy.
How do you follow your child?