Wednesday, June 12, 2013

(Broken) Glass

In our house we use real dishes.  All of us.  We eat of of porcelain plates, and drink out of glasses, and we use silverware not plastic ware.  When we introduced solid foods to our babies we did so with a metal spoon and a porcelain bowl.  At around six months of age we began pouring a small amount of water into a very small glass, much like a shot glass, for them to drink from.

The other day our two year old and six year old were setting the table together.  Each taking one dish at a time from a cart in the kitchen to its respective place on the table.  My son has been helping in this way since he was around 20 months.  On this evening the second glass my son took to set on the table didn't make it there.  It broke when he dropped it on the tile floor on its way up to the table.  I quickly asked him to step back, explaining that broken glass is very sharp, and swept up the glass.  My son observed cautiously and my daughter provided a worrisome commentary.  Once the glass was picked up, I got out another from the cupboard, put it on the cart and asked them to continue setting the table.  My daughter said, "Your gonna give him another one?"  I said, "Of course, we each need a glass to drink from for dinner."  I then explained to her that he also needs a second chance, the opportunity to be successful and to know that we still trust him to do the job.

To replace the small glass it will cost $.95, but the learning that took place in it breaking is truly priceless.  The lessons gleaned from a broken glass are:
1. Glass breaks
2. How to clean up carefully
3. Mistakes are opportunities to learn
4. How to recover and move-on after a mistake
5. Our parents are here for us to protect us and help us when we need them

The other day a friend and her son were over.  Our two young boys were playing legos in the living room.  Our young guest started playing kinda rough with a small plant stand that we have and my son rushed to him and said, "careful - GLASS!"  I would say he learned a lot the day the glass broke!

Do you trust your children to use real dishes at home?  If not, how will they be prepared to use them when they are out?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Be a Mediator!

My April Parenting Resolution was to be a mediator.  While my children are about four and half years apart they still find plenty of opportunities for conflict.  In my experience working with other parents it has become clear that many of us find navigating sibling conflict to be one of the toughest parenting jobs.

Being a mediator can be a great approach when dealing with conflict in a neutral way.  While we all know that we shouldn't take sides when there is a conflict between two or more children, it is not always as easy as it sounds.  For many parents and teachers our first response is to deal with the child who seems to be the instigator.  This can be damaging not only for the child who is always receiving the correction, but also the other "innocent" party.  I talked about how this can make one child into the "victim" in my post Put Kids In The Same Boat.  Besides, we aren't always right about who started it.

The definition of Mediate, according to Merriam-Webster online, is to occupy a middle position.  The opposite of taking sides.  To be a mediator in a parenting or teaching role would sound something like, "It looks like we have a disagreement here, what can we do to resolve it?"  In her book, Raising Happiness, Dr Christine Carter says that we can look at conflict between our children as an opportunity for learning positive conflict resolution.  A skill that has been linked to increased academic performance, self esteem, self-confidence, higher level reasoning, and creative problem solving.  The other thing is that once you have taught this skill of conflict resolution enough times your children will be able to begin to do it on their own.  That sounds great to me!

I gave it a try for the month and found it to be a lot more difficult than it sounds.  Perhaps the age of my children contributed to my difficulty.  My two year old lacks reasoning skills, patience, and an interest in taking turns just yet.  These are all completely normal two year old behaviors.  He is probably not really capable of true conflict resolution at this point.  That doesn't mean that it is too early to start giving him some of the language involved, modeling solution brainstorming , and expressing and restating feelings.

This whole business about addressing the situation with calm words and helping the children identify their feelings proved to be very helpful with both children.  Our youngest has been really responsive to us acknowledging his feelings, and our six year old is working on expressing her feelings.

While I don't think that they are quite ready for coming up with and agreeing on solutions together, we will continue to talk about solutions and work toward that.

For May, the month of Mother's Day, I will be working on Taking Care of Me for my Parenting Resolution.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Forgive and Forget

In March my parenting resolution was Forgive and Forget.  While this is good advice for life in general, I felt like it was something I could work on to make me a better parent.  Children are constantly pushing our buttons, making mistakes and challenging us.  They aren't intentionally doing these things, but as a result of their striving for independence and following their inner teacher they often do things that aren't exactly what we desire.

While training to become a Montessori teacher we learn that we must enter the classroom each morning almost as if it is our first day with the children in our class.  We have to let go of all the things that happened the day before and greet the children with love, trust and respect.  If we start the day thinking about something like a broken glass or a spilled pitcher of water, we might not be able to treat the children the same as if we let it go before entering.

Parenting is the same.  We can't be angry about things, even "naughty" things, that our children do and let those feelings guide our actions.  We have to wake each morning with a fresh perspective and give our children the benefit of the doubt.  Forgiveness doesn't mean excusing what someone has done, or accepting their actions, instead it allows us to move past the incident with an open mind and heart.
Forgiveness frees us to move on, and according to Christine Carter, author of Raising Happiness, it also makes us happier.  Forgiveness seems like a no brainer, but forgetting?  I am not so sure.

The second half of the old adage, forgive and forget, is the one I see a problem with.  While we do want to forgive our children their mistakes immediately we must not forget where they had the problem.  For instance, a child who colors with marker on the walls should not be given free range to markers, at least not for some time.  As parent or educators we forgive the behavior then we remember that it happened. We use this knowledge, gained from observing the child, to guide him in a direction that is appropriate for his needs at that moment.  The wall colorer may need to do some large motor movement, scrubbing a wall would be good.  Or he may need an opportunity to create something beautiful and colorful to hang on the wall.  Helping the child find a purposeful and appropriate expression of his desires requires us to remember the "misbehavior" while forgiveness allows us to respond with wisdom and love instead of anger.

For the month of April my parenting resolution will be Be a Mediator!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Help Me To Do It Myself

One of the most well known phrases in the Montessori world is "Help me do it myself".  I think that it is so well known because it really summarizes the Montessori philosophy in its very essence.  While Montessori school are known for their academics, many people quickly discover the push for independence.  Children in Montessori classrooms are given the space to be independent and the tools that allow them to do so successfully   With child sized materials and furniture, the Prepared Environment   in the classroom encourages independence.  The same is true for Montessori homes.

In our home we have adapted the environment to allow our children to be independent in many ways.  We have always encouraged them to try to do it themselves, and if they need help to ask for it.  As soon as our son started talking he could say "help please!"  It sounded a bit like "hupppeee", but we understood what he meant   It should have come to no surprise when about a month ago he started saying, "help please, do it!"  By which he meant "Help me to do it by myself."  He is 100% in the do it himself stage, but he is not always able to do things completely on his own.  He figured out that he can sk for help while still making it clear to us that he would like to participate as much as possible.  This is a very important transition that we all must make as a family.  Although it can be very tiring some times when your toddler wants to do things himself.  It can almost seem absurd sometimes.  Like when you have to unbuckle his car seat, so that he can buckle it himself.  Or when you have to take the dirty shirt out of the laundry basket so he can put it in.  However annoying this may seem, and no matter how much longer these actions take, it is essential that children are allowed to "do it" on their own or tot he best of their ability during this time that they have the interest to do so.

Maria Montessori said, "Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed."  The key to this sentence is the word FEELS.  Note - it is not about what you feel the child can do, or what you feel is the easiest or quickest way to do it, but what he feels he can do.  You have to let him have the opportunity to try, and then ask for your help if he needs it.  When you do help, after being asked, you only help as much as is needed.  An example is when your toddler is getting dressed.  My almost two year old can get his shirt over his head, but can quite get his arms through the holes, once he does he can pull down the front and back to straighten it.

Not only do children learn to do things for themselves through independence, but they also learn that they are capable.  If toddlers aren't given the opportunity to try, do and sometimes fail at their own tasks they risk loosing the desire to do things for themselves. Parents and teachers who help and do things for their children all the time often claim to do so out of love.  These children quickly pick up on this message, and soon beleive "If you love me you will serve me!"

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Avoid Nagging

My parenting resolution for February was to Avoid Nagging.  I have talked about this topic before when I was working on the Positive Discipline tool One Word.  I still use this tool when I remember or think it is appropriate and still find it to be an effective way to communicate needs, reminders, and rules when the child already knows what is expected and is capable of doing it.

In addition to using just one word to state my requests, I tried just not saying or even doing anything at all as one way to avoid nagging.  I know that doesn't sound like very good parenting advice, but it was actually pretty effective in certain situations.  Dinner time is the perfect example.  My daughter does her homework at the dining room table while I cook dinner each night.  When she is finished with her homework, she often plays with her little brother while I finish up dinner.  When dinner is almost ready I start nagging my daughter to put her homework away, clear the table, set the table etc.  This is not a pleasant experience for anyone in the house.  I annoy myself!  One day I decided not to say anything.  I just finished up dinner, got out the plates and silver wear for setting the table and set them on the edge of the table and called everyone to come and eat.  As soon as my daughter got to the table she said, "Oops, I forgot to put my homework away."  She quickly cleaned it up while i got drinks for everyone.  When she got back she set the table quickly and we all sat down and ate.  I was thinking I would give this strategy a try and if it didn't work I would put the issue on the Family Meeting agenda.  Turns out the issue was all mine.  I wanted the homework cleaned up as soon as she was finished working on it.  She wanted a break after school and homework.  I had already expressed the need for the table to be cleared and set for dinner many times, as well as taken the time for training her how to do the job.  When we got ready to eat and there was a mess at the table she didn't think twice about what needed to be done.  She also didn't need me insulting her intelligence or humiliating her in front of everyone else by nagging her about it.

I did catch my self nagging in a few other situations, and just being mindful of it made it easy to stop myself and seek a better solution.  All in all I would say this resolution was a success and another one that I hope to continue as we move on into the next month.  For March my parenting resolution will be Forgive and Forget!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Let me be honest...

Living in San Diego has some real bonuses!  The weather has to be the most notable one.  Coming from Colorado I really appreciate the year round mild, usually perfect, weather.  My kids do too, and they take full advantage of it.

We have a safe, private back yard at our home.  The children pass in and out freely and I feel comfortable with them playing out there unsupervised (yes, I said it!) - unsupervised!  They are now six and almost two, and together or even alone they really enjoy spending time in our back yard.  They have an empty garden box for digging in, sidewalk chalk, plants to water, flowers to cut and arrange, a broom for sweeping, bikes/trikes, and balls. There are also a variety of bugs, lizards, birds, bunnies, and plants for observing.  Most importantly though, they get fresh air and vitamin D.  When they start to get a little crazy inside I suggest they go out and play.  Being outside immediately has a calming affect on them both.  Sometimes my daughter just sits out there and reads a book, while the little guy makes mud cakes for her.  I often her them laughing while they are out there; I think they actually get along better when they are playing outside than in.

As you can see they get plenty of essential exposure to the great outdoors.  They don't lack in outdoor time, but I still feel I need to take them to the neighborhood park.  I have a love-hate relationship with the park.  The playground equipment allows children to strengthen and coordinate their gross motor skills in ways that ,unless you live on a rural farm or ranch, or practice a hunter/gatherer life style, your children probably do not get.  While I love this opportunity for my kids to climb and develop their muscles in ways that they do not do otherwise, I don't love the other parents at the park.  I don't like how parents follow their children around the park wherever they go, telling them what to do next, to be careful, to say "sorry", to take turns, and to be nice.  Imagine what would happen if the parents just sat down on one of the many benches along the perimeter of the playground and just left their kids alone!  They just might learn that they are capable of doing things on their own, or how to interact with another child who wants to do the same thing as them, or what happens when they jump from the steps instead of carefully walking down.  We wouldn't want that would we?

Not only do these "other"parents burden their own children with their constant interference,  but they also give me looks when I am not following their lead.  As if I am a bad parent, just sitting on my butt, too lazy to take care of my own child.  Well enough is enough.  I have finally decided to be honest with them.  When they are following their child around and telling them to be careful of my little boy, or to take turns with my daughter,  I tell them I really don't mind if they let the children just figure it out on their own.  When one of the poor, unsuspecting, parents tries to inform me that one of my children is trying to get up the slide, or might need a little help with the monkey bars, I politely tell them that I am observing them and at this point I would like to allow them to try to do it on their own.

I have tried this new method of honesty at the park, children's museum, and the children's art studio.  Each time it has actually gone over quite well.  Some parents are relieved to hear my point of view.  They admit that they agree, but feel pressure from other parents to follow their kids around telling them what to do.  One mom even told me that her kids look at her strange when she acts the helicopter parent, because she is only like that at the park, and when other parents are around!

If you are one of the "other" parents who truly feels the need to follow your child around at the park, I invite you to try to sit back and just let them be the next time you go.  I am not encouraging you to let them get hurt or to bully.  I would certainly intervene if I thought one of my children was in danger of serious injury or was bullying another child.  However, it is important to remember that children will face physical challenges as well as confrontation from peers throughout their life, and the park just might be one of the best places for them to begin learning how to deal with such situations in a safe and peaceful manner.  What better time is there to learn empathy, self-control, respect, or even the law of gravity!

If you are more like me, and have felt the pressure to act like an "other" while at the park, I invite you to just be honest the next time the situation arises.  You will not only be standing up for yourself, but for your children too.

It is a beautiful day...who's up for a trip to the park?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Follow the Child

People, especially new moms, often ask me when it is time to help their children move to a next stage.  Be it potty training, eating, sleeping, walking, etc., parents want to know when they should do something to help their child progress.

Isn't it funny how we think we are somehow in control of when our children develop a certain skill or progress to the next stage of development?  I guess in a way we are; we can certainly hinder their development by not providing the opportunities of independence and exploration that they need.  However, when it comes to pushing them to the next step, we really don't have much influence at all.  Maria Montessori figured this out.  She proclaimed, we must "follow the child!"  As parents or teachers it is our job to follow the child allowing him to develop at his own pace according to his own schedule.

This is difficult, because we feel like it is our job to teach our children.  How can we teach them if we are following them?  Shouldn't we lead and they follow?  If we always lead our children, than all that we can hope for from them is to someday be where we are.  Don't we want more for our children?  I want my children to know more than I'll ever know and to accomplish more than I will ever accomplish - to reach their fullest potential.  Rather than teach them what we know, let's allow them the freedom to surpass even our wildest dreams for them, on their own path and in their own way.

To follow the child successfully we must first prepare their environment.  A prepared environment is one that allows the child to follow his inner teacher, to explore things that are of interest to him and to learn through his own endeavors.  Children who are allowed to play/work independently without constant instruction and interruption from the adult respond with joy and deep concentration.

A prepared environment for your child will contain: developmentally appropriate toys, real (glass, wood, metal) objects, child-sized tools (utensils, scissors, dishes, etc) and furniture, beautiful things (art, flowers, nature), and a clear and easy to maintain order.  The environment will be constantly changing as the child grows - this is where the following comes in.  As caregivers we observe the child, and based on those observations, we adapt the environment to meet the child's needs.  We don't give him things to do that are senseless and without purpose.  We don't give him things that are either so easy that he is bored or so difficult that he is defeated by them.  We pay close attention to where he is at, and more importantly, where he is headed, so that we can provide the exact tools he will need.  We prepare the environment, and then we step back and give him the freedom required to master a skill or one's self.

In Discovery Of The Child, Maria Montessori wrote, "That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendour during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration.  It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom."

I encourage you to take some time and follow your child for a change.  You might be surprised where he will lead you.