How to Follow Your Child, Even When It’s Tough: Montessori Parenting Techniques

How to Follow Your Child, Even When It's Tough- Montessori Parenting Techniques

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.

Montessori said:

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?

Follow your child, even when it gets tough Montessori Parenting Techniques

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.

Maria Montessori

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?




18 thoughts on “How to Follow Your Child, Even When It’s Tough: Montessori Parenting Techniques

  1. I tend to allow my kids to do things sometimes I don’t want them to do just because I want them to experience it. For example, if they want to take off the sippy cup lid to drink the last gulp, I’ll let them so they can drink like an adult. But if they a spill It, I get mad and yell so they know it is not acceptable to spill it purposely and to be careful. It seems to work. Not sure if I’m doing the Right thing?
    Joanne | no plate like home recently posted…5 Easy and Cheap DIY Christmas Decorating IdeasMy Profile

    • Thanks for reading Joanne! I agree – sometimes we have to let kids do things we don’t really want them to do because they need the experience. Even if it means more laundry! I agree that it’s good for your kids to know it’s not ok to spill purposefully. You could also try saying something like “I wonder if you can drink the last gulp without spilling a drop?” to encourage them to be careful. Whenever my kids do spill, I ask them to help clean it up. I catch myself getting angry when my kids do something I don’t like, but I try to express myself in a way that I’d like them to show their anger too – so I say something like “I don’t like that” because I think that would be a great way for them to respond when they’re angry too. But it’s hard to keep it together sometimes! Good luck with your little ones!

  2. This was very thought provoking – I immediately thought back to a scene this morning – my four year old had a major tantrum the whole way to school because I helped her out of the car and she wanted to do it on her own. I think I followed her…I listened, I stayed calm, I set boundaries when she went too far.We negotiated, and we found a compromise. It’s not always easy following your kids though, it involves patience that has sometimes been stretched a little bit thin!
    Thanks for linking to #coolmumclub

    • Yes! it requires so much patience and listening even when we’ve had enough! But each move they make is their inner voice striving to become more independent, just like your 4 year old wanting to get out of the car! Although not always expressed in an easy way to handle that’s for sure. Sounds like you did a great job following your daughter 🙂

    • Glad you found it helpful! Yes, if following the child is hard enough in everyday life, it’s much harder when they’re being difficult! But I think we’re up to the challenge 🙂

  3. This is a fascinating post – I try to follow my girl as much as possible for all the reasons above but admit it can be a struggle sometimes as we have a natural tendency to want to control as human beings! Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub with this X

  4. This is very interesting, I like the way of seeing what your child wants to do and redirecting them into an activity that satisfies their urges but is safe. Dealing with feelings is a big one, I’m going to try the breath thing with my two. Thanks for linking up with us. #bigpinklink
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  5. Because my kids are older now (5,6,7, 16, and 18) I really just try to talk it out with them. Try and ask why they are acting out of misbehaving. (The 18 year old is out of the house and and joined the army but we had a big long talk before he left). It’s amazing the information they will share with you if you just sit down to their level and communicate …to let them know you are there for them. My kids are usually pretty happy kids so when that changes, I know I need to get to the bottom of it. Thanks so much for linking up with #momsterslink and hope to see you again tomorrow :))

    • Yes – it certainly does help once they get more verbal 🙂 But I do think there’s often a tendency to write it off as “oh they’re in a bad mood or misbehaving” rather than digging deeper. It sounds like you have a great relationship with your kids and are able to have great, meaningful conversations. Thanks for the linkup! Will def. be checking in tomorrow.

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