Helping to Create “Mean Girls”

Several conversations recently came together for me, into a shocking insight.  Now that I have had time to think about it, it is not shocking at all, of course; like so many things.

I was part of several conversations about children (boys) and gun play.  This subject never goes away, and may be a topic for another stream of thought.  Gun violence in this country is a real thing, and effects children and families, but, in this case,  this thread led to something else.

The other thing that never goes away, even in preschool (!!!!) is that of “mean girls”; that is, “social aggression” (as it is called in the literature).  How it appears: boys get mad and punch each other, girls are mean, and the “meanness” just flows in and out, and around, and remains a continual sore in the hearts of these girls.  Not all girls “do” social aggression, some just stay out of it, but, for the ones who do, what fuels it?

For those of us who do preschool, and parents of girls, we know that “talking it out” or asking them to “just walk away” rarely (never?) helps.

What Lynn * said, in one of many follow-up conversations: “Isn’t it strange that physical aggression is (generally) not modeled to these boys, but social aggression is modeled for these girls?” (This seems to be true in the community in which I work; other communities model different things.)  Lynn also said: “Can’t you remember every mean thing that was ever said to you?  I can.”  I can, too.

So, boys play gun play, and punch each other, but there seems to be little lasting damage, and they go back to playing; “getting it out”, or expressing their frontal lobe limits and going on; their dads are not shooting anyone, or punching anyone.

Girls, however, can often hear grown women criticizing each other.  Often.  In my family, it was sarcastically called: “helpful criticism”: “She really shouldn’t wear that color.”; “She should know better than to put on a bathing suit.”; “Does she call that decorating for Christmas?”  So many of us have made comments like this in private, in front of our children.

There is a story I read years ago, on the Internet, in which a mother made such a comment about another mother (something like: “Oh, let’s not have the meeting at her house, it’s always filthy!”) and her child, in the car, started to cry.  “I am sad that you hate yourself, Mom!” The mother is flabbergasted, and asks the child for clarification.  “You said that people who say mean things always feel badly about themselves!”  Um, yea.

So, how much of a stretch is it to go from saying those things in private, to saying them to someone’s face: “I hate you, and you can never come to my birthday party.”  Ow!!!  How could that EVER be okay to say?  And yet, somehow, it is.  And the hurt lingers, and poisons our children and their friends.

So, as in everything else, we have to look at, watch, and listen to ourselves first.

Ow.  And then cut it out.

*Lynn Miller, as very wise person.1-girls-fighting

 

 

“Sensory issues”

1-children-huggingI have been teaching a long time, but I first heard of “sensory integration” concerns in Montessori training, not from one of my teachers, but from a fellow intern and mom.  Her daughter was dealing with “tactile defensiveness” and was going to a pediatric occupational therapist.  Wow, what???  Tactile defensiveness is feeling unexpected touch as pain, and a pediatric occupational therapist can help children learn to tolerate/integrate some sensory input that is lacking/needed/unwanted/uncomfortable.  Who knew?

I am writing this in part because I have found that sensory integration issues are hard to see, there is no blood test for them, and yet they affect many children.  Also, if you Google “sensory integration” you will get “Autism”, which is terrifying.  Yes, most children with autism have SID, many/most children  with SID do NOT have Autism.  In my classroom, I currently see about 4 children a year who seem to be effected by sensory irritations. (OTs can also help with many other issues, such a problems with core-strength- children who have trouble holding themselves upright- hand strength and dexterity, and many other things.)

That next week, after that conversation with Isabelle about her daughter, I was pondering a child in my class who would regularly get called out for punching someone randomly.  When I asked him, he responded : “They hurt me!”, even though they were generally only standing behind him in line.  Bingo!  Tactile defensiveness!  He described it as needing people “this far” (a full arm’s length) away from him, or “it hurt.”  His parents never bought into such a notion, but it was helpful for the class and for him.  As soon as he could articulate what was bothering him, there was no more random punching.

This is a pretty simple story; much of sensory integration sensitivity is much harder to see or address.  For one thing, a child can be both sensory “seeking” (wanting more sensation in some areas) and “sensory avoiding”.  A child who is sensitive to sound can yell (?).  As one OT explained it, “at least they are in charge of the noise.”  And, remember, we are talking about children, who are trying to deal as best they can.  And, why would they think that we do not feel the same things that they do?

If you or someone you know is sensitive to clothing, wrinkles in sheets, smells, sounds, certain kinds of lights, needs to move alot before they can relax to sleep, is always on the go, avoids certain textures of food or things on their hands, paints glue on their fingers, likes to wedge themselves into tight places, hates crowds, seeks out certain textures, rocks or jiggles their leg, fiddles, covers ears a lot, gets really revved up in large open spaces, moves away from others in a group, avoids hugs, seeks out hugs, doesn’t like to get hugs but wants to hug others….see, it is very complex!

Why does it matter?  Because it can be annoying/disruptive/painful, and so can affect learning and/or relationships.  And they/we don’t know how to describe, or what to do, so they/we may need help.

My learning about this is long and slow, as I am NOT a pediatric occupational therapist, nor do I play one on TV.  My own son banged into people he loved and jumped down stairs, and around.  So I yelled at him.  He wore his boots on the wrong feet because they “felt better that way.”  My stepson broke all the pencils, unbent all the paperclips and took Ritalin.  I, of course, am completely normal when I jiggle my leg to keep myself on task, want to cry in florescent lights and sleep under a heavy blanket, even in the summer.  My husband’s ears “hurt” in crowded restaurants, and he, too, cannot bear to stand in a line.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to have some help at some point for each of us, or at least someone who was willing to try to help us explain what we need/avoid?  Yes, I wish I had not fussed at my children so much, and had not been fussed at.

So, if someone mentions that your child be evaluated by an OT, you might be getting some interesting data.  This is not obscure, arcane gobbledey-gook, but real factors that affect real people, and can get “in the way”.  One of our jobs, as parents and teachers, is to remove obstacles.1-children-hugging1-children-hugging1-children-hugging

 

Consciously skilled

Julie Neal and I teach Positive Discipline (from Adler, Dreikurs and Jane Nelson).  In the parent educator training, we are given a fat book of experiential exercises to help participants feel the way children feel when we act certain ways.  There are also exercises to help adults examine why and how we do what we do, and feel what we feel.  All fascinating!

At the end, we often do an activity called : The Continuum of Change (Positive Discipline Association).  In this, we are invited to remember a hard learning that involved brain and body.  The point of the exercise is to help us forgive ourselves for not knowing everything, and for feeling uncomfortable during the learning.  It has been so long since we learned something completely new, of COURSE it feels awful, like stalling out in the middle of heavy traffic, or making a turn onto gravel and flying over the handlebars!  One can think of riding a bike, driving a car, using manual transmission, or learning to knit.  Remember that mind-blowing struggle at the beginning?

The continuum goes something like this: first, you are unconsciously unskilled.  You don’t even know what you don’t know (maybe how your preschooler sees you driving; just turning the wheel- la dah!)  Then, you are consciously unskilled: “oh, I will NEVER get this!  What do I do now???? Oh, %$^&.”

Next, you get to be consciously skilled: “I can do this, if I concentrate and stick out my tongue, and don’t breathe, and now my brain is fried.  I need a break!!”

After a long time, some say 10,000 hours, you get to be unconsciously skilled.  That is when you can drive the car, eat a sandwich, talk to your kids in the back, and decide what to have for dinner, all without missing a beat.

And, how do we get to Carnagie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.  For adults, this process is terribly uncomfortable, perhaps because we have perfected so many skills, that it feels AWFUL to go back to incompetence.  So hats off to those who take up a new instrument, or a new language, as adults!

On to children.  As you can imagine, they live a lot of the time between unconsciously unskilled and consciously unskilled.  They are not good at much, especially the first time.  And, if they live with mostly adults, then it is discouraging that everyone else is good at EVERYTHING!  Why bother?

Fortunately, children seem to be hard wired to learn hard stuff.  Like walking and speaking a language, with grammar and all.  So, that’s what they are good at.   Montessori saw, however, that, if we gave children a lot of opportunities to become consciously, then unconsciously skilled, from a very young age, they felt good, and learned skills and confidence that allowed them to consider learning more and more things.  The movement from consciously unskilled to consciously skilled did not feel so impossible.  In fact, it might even be fun, and definitely worth the risks.

So, she created a lot of self-corrected learning materials, that intrigued hands and minds.  She also placed importance on something she called: Practical Life (or Grace and Courtesy).  This is the process of actively teaching self-care and life skills, in a fun, accepting way, from blowing your nose and wiping your own bottom, to how to ask for help or tell someone to leave you alone.  It also can include dressing yourself, folding clothes, hanging up your coat so that you can find it again, cooking, cleaning…anything that is “practical” to “life” in your culture, would be useful.  And, of course, at home, things that your family and your child value: washing the car, gardening, taking care of pets, making art, playing music….

So, we take the time to break down many tasks into small parts, and give many, many stress free opportunities to practice, with as much help as needed, so that children will have many, many abilities at a young age, and feel competent in many things, before they interact with much that is “academic.”

Think of the intense satisfaction you feel as you have mastered something.  Don’t all people, including  children deserve the opportunity to feel that they are masters in many things?  They can do so, if they are given opportunity, time, instruction (if needed) and support.

 

Privilege and responsibility

independent childWe have jobs in the classroom. The teachers have jobs (subtle ones, and not so subtle ones, like, watching someone use the stapler, using the teacher scissors, helping sad people, giving suggestions, stopping some behavior). The children have jobs. We have a “job board” with “sticks”. On Monday, if you are one of the oldest children, you pick a job and a helper. Your job is to do the task, to help the classroom, and to train the younger child how to do it. This ranges from hanging wet napkins and folding dry ones to setting up dishwashing for snack plates, to feeding the pets.

Each child goes, in the classroom, from incompetent and clueless to competent teacher, in 3 years. I recently watched a five give a lovely, patient lesson in napkin folding: “Bottom to top, and side to side.” with great warmth and kindness. The 2.5 year old was enthralled, as a child can only be by an older child.

The child “who was in charge of napkins” becomes “the napkin leader”, who hands out napkins at lunch. This is a coveted job, that carries prestige, as seen by the children. Over the third year, the oldest children are willing to share the prestige, and often allow their helpers to be the “napkin leader.” This is a fun transition, sharing privilege, because you know what it feels like, and are willing to share it with others.

I could say a lot more about this, but it is another lovely aspect of the multiaged classroom.

At home, make sure that your child feels responsibility for something, so that they can experience the privilege of being competent. Children often feel that they are always needing help/deserving service. Let’s help them graduate to feeling empowered and capable.

Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius

montessori-child-1
http://www.montessori-science.org/Montessori-Genius/Lillard_Montessori_Science_Genius_Ch1.pdf

The first chapter of the book by 2nd generation Montessorian, Angeline Lillard. She takes research on learning and compares them to the tenants of Montessori education. ” Modern research in psychology suggests the Montessori system is much more suited to how children learn and develop than the traditional system is.”

“The empty-vessel and factory models have many implications for schooling,
which are discussed in the chapters to come. To preview, when the child is seen as an empty vessel into which one pours knowledge and then creates bonds, there is no need to involve the child actively in the learning process: empty vessels are passive by nature. Yet people learn best when they are actively engaged. Good teachers try to keep children active by asking lots of questions during lectures, but the physical structure of the classroom is designed for passivity: the child sits and listens to the teacher, who
stands at the blackboard and delivers knowledge. There is no need to consider the child’s interests in the prevailing model because empty vessels have nothing in them from which interests could stem. When interests do arise, since all vessels have been filled with the same stuff, all vessels should share interests. Empty vessels certainly cannot make choices, and so teachers or school administrators choose what should be learned, down to the micro-details tested on statewide examinations.

The factory model also has certain implications for schooling. Factories at the turn of the century were efficient because all raw materials were treated alike. Factory workers operated on material, and material was passive. The material was moved from one place to another, assembled on a set schedule. Based on the factory model, all children in a class are given the same information simultaneously and are often moved from one place to
another at the ring of a bell. It is a significant strike against the factory model that even true factories are changing practices to improve long-term productivity, by allowing teams of workers to develop products from start to finish rather than having the product moved from place to place (Wompack, 1996). Yet schools still operate like the factories of yore.”

Giving comfort, escaping shame

mf-seeking-comfort-on-her-shoulders
http://www.purposefairy.com/72173/brene-brown-speaks-on-shame-6-types-of-people-you-should-never-confide-in/

If you have not read the work of Brene Brown, or seen her TED talk, please do.

If you haven’t noticed yet, parenting pushes all of your buttons; especially the buttons you didn’t know that you had. 🙂 Of course, it is very hard to reflect on your childhood and the assumptions in your family, but it is part of the work, I think, of parenting.

One comment that I hear often from parents is: “I don’t want to be THAT PARENT!‘” I think this comes from our past, and that we can mean different things by it. What is our biggest fear as a parent? And where does that come from?

Our children are more resilient than we can imagine, and, if we are honest with them, the way Brene Brown describes being honest in this video, your children will stay in relationship and learn something about what to do with their own shame.

(She describes the difference between shame and guilt this way: “Guilt is when you know that you did something “bad”; shame is when you believe that you are bad. Shame leads to bad outcomes on every level.)

So, whatever you fear, please face your fear, or you can pass on your shame to the next generation.

if you are afraid for your child not to be pleased or entertained, to be angry, or to stand your ground, your child may feel unable to cope with difficulty.

If you are afraid of a child who is “spoiled”, you might be too strict, and fail to express your empathy, leaving your child anxious.

If you are afraid that your child is not learning enough, you may keep them too busy, and not give them enough time to discover on their own.

If you are uncomfortable with structure, you may leave your children hanging about what to expect.

If you are afraid that they will get emotionally or physically hurt, you may not let them explore relationships and environments on their own. We learn best when the learning is our own discovery!

“We are scientists observing nature. No scientist goes into the jungle, sees a monkey the scientist thinks is not ready to climb trees, then chains the monkey to the root of the tree.” Matt Bronsil

CP_Education_0068

Matt is a Montessori teacher raised by Montessori teachers:) Matt’s quote is in response to all the teachers and all the parents who say, sometimes: “S/he is not ready for that work/material/idea.”

We are all human, but we must remember that, although children almost always need for us to slow down, they are also often leaping ahead.