Raising a Responsible Montessori Child
Raising a child is not instinctive; care can be, but educating is not. To raise a child, you have to pay keen attention to the details that your child is constantly expressing. Raising a toddler is a whole lot of work, to such an extent that a lot of parents choose to quit their jobs to focus solely on raising their kids. It is not something you learn in a day. Every child grows differently, every child expresses themselves differently and you must be aware these differences when raising your child. Schools also must keep this in perspective; children don’t all grow the same.
Educating is still necessary, however, and we will now discuss how you can imbue your toddler with certain characteristics and virtues. As your children grow into mature adults, every trait they picked up while growing will shape their personality. That means that the building blocks that are required for a person to grow and become a successful individual are laid out since childhood. That’s why it’s crucial that we pay attention to the important aspects of a child’s life that could impact how the child grows.
HOW EXACTLY DO YOU GET THEM TO BE RESPONSIBLE?
A toddler is a child between twelve and thirty-six months of age. These are the years in which their cognitive, social, emotional skills develop. It’s the time when they want to touch, feel and engage with everything. It’s also around this time that they want bring everything to their mouths, they rip out the pages of every book they encounter, they want to paint and color walls—they just want to express their curiosity and their energy.
Inversely when you take something that belongs to your toddler and they flip, trying to reason with them at this point won’t work—they just want what they want at that moment.
A small part of the brained called the amygdala is an important part of the limbic system, which is responsible for your emotions and hormonal control. This is precisely the part of the brain that activates when your child is throwing a tantrum. Toddlers don’t yet know how to be logical when they’re in the middle of an emotional outburst. Controlling out emotions is something we learn as we age.
Other skills your toddler lacks at this age are known as executive function and self-regulation. These skills are what help us focus our attention, plan things out, remember instructions and multitask successfully. Basically, your child is like a loose cannon. They cannot yet recognize the fact that their actions have consequences, and that some of these might harm them. They just want to have fun—they want to express their curiosity and vent their energy.
It is your role to explain to them over and over again what you want them to do and use relatable examples. You have to paint a clear picture in their mind that actions have consequences so that they become aware that certain actions can hurt them.
The experiences we encounter as we grow are what shape our brain. Whenever you experience something new, your brain cells (neurons) are activated and begin to make connections with other neurons. This is how behavioral patterns are formed. The first time you went to school and the emotion that you got from it shaped you; the first time you drove, the first time you got robbed; all these experiences shaped you into who you are. That’s how it is for your toddler—their experiences shape them. You need to create the best experience for their mind to thrive.
You must understand that more than what you say, your toddler will follow what you do. They are curious like that. They always want to do what they see beyond what you are saying. You have to keep in mind that toddlers sometimes find it hard to understand some of the words you use. I remember a toddler asking me what “consequence” meant. I asked him what he thought it was and he said he thought it was some sort of computer—you get my point?
It is simply a fact that children will follow what you are doing more easily than what you are saying. Those gestures help them understand what you are saying faster. A child’s learning is enhanced when they see examples that they can relate with. If you want them to do the dishes after a meal, teach them by example. If you want them to pick up their toys and organize them, show them how to do it first. If you want them to learn to share, you have to constantly show them what sharing looks like. If you behave in a way opposite to what you’re trying to teach them, this will only confuse your child.
Make it a habit of assigning tasks to them. Ensure that these tasks are age-appropriate though. In class, for example, you can ask a certain child “Would you be responsible for arranging your crayons properly?” You can guide this child through the process, patiently ensuring that they follow your instructions. They will gradually begin to feel a responsibility to perform that task and eventually arrange the crayons without being asked to it.
Have chores clearly stated for them at home, maybe with the help of an older sibling but make sure they are engaged. Get them to arrange their toys, organize their books, or help put away the dishes someone else washes them. Leading by example is the best you can do for your child.
Repeat and repeat and repeat. We may think that just saying things once will suffice, but this is hardly the case with toddlers. Don’t assume your toddler already knows something—repeat things to them over and over.
You can even create learning aids to help them remember the tasks you have given them. They will eventually learn to take the initiative, but first repeat, and repeat so much so that it becomes a rhyme stuck in their minds. One of my favorite songs to sing to my toddlers is the “brush your teeth” song. We composed the song in class and everyone does gestures as we sing along.
Every job well done deserves praise. You know that feeling you get when you do something right and your boss gives you praise in front of everyone? What follows is that you would typically want to do more to get even more praise. Kids also feel this same way. You can see it in the way that blood rushes to their face and smile just about splits their face in half when you praise them. So always make sure praise for completed tasks—don’t withhold the praise! Let them have it. Make them feel validated in front of everyone; give them high fives and speak highly of the task they completed.
Of course, when a child does something, you shouldn’t expect it to be perfect. Every new skill takes time to learn and so there will be many a shabby task performed by your toddler. Even so, praise them for it. Validation is very important to their self-esteem and their confidence in solving problems.
Apart from praising them, reward them, but don’t over-indulge. If you reward them too much, they will start to think that they ought to be rewarded for every action or task they complete, which can lead to a self-entitled mentality. You need to use rewarding wisely. You can create a chart where your child gets a star for completing an activity—letting the child add their own stars can also be rewarding in itself.
Consequences are real; they affect our everyday lives. This world works by cause and effect, which means that whatever we do has an effect on our lives. For every action we take, the impact could affect a person, two people, or millions. The consequence of not eating for days can be drastic, the consequence of not raising a child properly can be devastating.
It would be impossible for a child to think that consequences don’t exist when they experience these consequences themselves, especially when they’re unpleasant. I had a toddler that liked to drink water from a puddle, and he eventually got a really bad infection from it.
Toddlers are simply energetic, they would want to see, feel, touch and taste everything that they see—and that’s how they learn. Your job is to direct that energy to the right areas.
HOW CAN YOU DO THIS?
Explain the consequences clearly and in relatable terms; you can use learning aids as we outlined earlier. You come up with all kinds of colorful ways to convey the message that everything they do has consequences and what that means. For instance, if you warn your toddler against not arranging their crayons, you would need to repeat it to them over and over. If they fail to do it, you can, look for ways to express disappointment and let them see this as a consequence of their actions. Of course, this takes time and a lot of patience.
A toddler must also learn that they will not get everything that they want, how they want it and when they want it. In many ways, you are still the boss. Small children don’t have the capabilities to survive on their own—they don’t know what delayed gratification or intelligent choices are, and they are still too curious to know that a snake they found in the backyard may not be a pet. That is why, even though you want to facilitate your child making decisions for themselves, you still need to be there to observe these choices. You need to show them that they can’t always get what they want especially when the thing they’re asking for will negatively impact them. They should also know that when they do something wrong, there will be consequences—this is a concept that should be highlighted strongly.
When correcting your child, always give them the chance to try to fix their mistake so that you can see if they understood what you said. Give your child time to grow into a new skill and don’t rush them, or else they might miss the importance of the process and perform it mechanically just to please you.
Toddlers are very instinctive and know when you are not pleased by something they’ve done. If they see that what they did hurt you, they might stop. But this shouldn’t be enough of a reason for them to stop that activity. You want to be sure that the toddler knows exactly why the task was given or why you corrected them; they need to really understand so that they can truly benefit from the process.
Take the example of Tom, a two-year-old that was very aggressive toward his friends. We sat him down and tried to find out why he was behaving that way. He eventually said that he felt afraid and thought that people were going to hurt him. He did not know how to handle anxiety and threats, so he responded with violence. We explained to him why this was not the right approach and, even though he ended up getting into another fight, something changed. Tom felt very remorseful in comparison to his previous fights. We talked to him again, explained how he could change his behavior and how we would work on this together. The changes we saw in Tom were truly amazing.
Let me tell you another story to further explain my point. There was once a man who saw how much a butterfly was struggling to emerge from its cocoon. He watched at it fought to free a single wing from the cocoon, only to hang from the cocoon, exhausted. The man pitied the butterfly and freed the second wing from the cocoon. After a short while, he noticed that the butterfly could not flap both its wings; it could only use one wing. The wing that was incapacitated was the wing that he had set free.
The butterfly’s struggle was meant make its wings strong enough to handle the air pressure, strong enough to flap as many times as it needed to fly. The man thought he was helping the butterfly by cutting short the process, but he only ended up hindering the butterfly.
This is applicable to your toddlers as well. You have to allow them to learn from their mistakes and grow at their own pace. Patience, in this case, is a very important key to ensuring their development.
Curiosity is the backbone of learning—it’s the whole reason why you want to try out new things. Without curiosity, life and learning would be bland and lackluster. Curiosity adds that special spice that gives life spark. It is how people change.
Babies are born with this gift because they haven’t had enough experience to knock out all the curiosity they have in stock. As adults, we don’t have to try hard to make our children curious. All we have to do is harness this curiosity. We can channel all their curiosity into very productive things.
Sometimes curiosity can go wrong too, though. Like when a toddler sticks some dirt in their mouth, or puts their hand in the fire, or uses equipment that they’re not familiar with. We have all heard a story where a toddler manages to get into his father’s office and takes it upon himself to use his crayons to brighten up some very important—but really boring—documents. Situations like this, while funny in retrospect, can be frustrating in the moment. That is why it is our job to help our children channel all that wonderful curiously in the right way.
Some parents and educators will try to stifle that curiosity, but that is the most harmful approach you could possibly take. Rather than stifling your child’s creativity, let it soar by gently guiding it in the right direction.
HOW CAN YOU DO THAT?
Give them more to work with. Don’t keep them locked up in the house 24/7, take them to parks, go on vacation to places they have never been, allow their mind to feed on all the colors, all the lights and the sounds. Take them for walks in the evening, when the sky is changing color, and allow them to soak it all up. This will help keep their curiosity active.
Let your child lead you—don’t shove a hobby down their throat or force them to stop one they chose. If your child has come to love a certain activity, watch them and help them flourish in that area. Their curiosity would be best channeled in an area they have expressed interest in. Get them tools and materials to help explore and express that curiosity, whether visual, auditory or sensorial, anything helps.
It is also a given that, as a parent or educator, you will be getting a fair share of weird questions, like “why is water wet?”, “why is the sky blue” or “why do dogs have a tail?”. This is all coming from their natural curiosity to learn, and it’s why I encourage parents to be well-read so that they can provide answers for their kids’ curiosity or at least guide them through the struggle. One of the worst things you can do is to make them feel like their questions are not smart or necessary. This can have a negative impact on their curiosity. You have to be patient when answering their questions, even if it gets a little tiring. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to tell them so! Use this opportunity to learn something alongside your child and discover the answer together.
One thing that should try to avoid at all costs is lying to your child. Children have better memory than we give them credit for, and they will remember the things you say to them. When you promise that you will read them a story in the evening, make sure you actually follow through. Keep in mind though that sometimes fiction and made-up characters are good entertainment for them and can help inspire their creative endeavors.
Use open-ended questions. Most parents or educators don’t know how to use open-ended questions to spark up a conversation or continue one. These are questions that can’t be answered with yes or no, but rather engage the mind to come up with more complex answers. Examples of some open-ended questions: “What about math do you not like?” “How was school today?” “What did your teacher say about your new hair?” The more you ask your child these types of questions, the more they will become aware of details in their activities that they believe you might ask about. You are simultaneously training their minds and channeling their curiosity.
You should also pay close attention your child’s environment when trying to curiosity and creativity. A bland, boring environment just won’t cut it. Use lots of colors, mascots, icons, and crafts to make your child’s surroundings as energetic as you want their minds to be. Remember to let your kid choose their own decorations.
You can then engage your child in educational games. There are games and activities that are known to boost cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills in children. Certain games also affect spatial intelligence and improve creativity. For instance, allowing them to build a Lego set (under supervision, of course, since you don’t want anyone swallowing any Legos) is a great way to engage their minds and curiosity. You can let them play with clay, pots, pans, crayons, boxes, arts and crafts etc.
Attention to detail is a skill that parents and educators need to develop. If you skim over important details in your child’s activities, it may end up being harmful for them. For instance, if you notice your child loves to play with dirt, you can stop them from doing that and create an alternative. Why? You don’t want them to lose that spark. Don’t discourage them from exploring; just monitor how they are expressing themselves.