Words to use

KIND-WORDS

I have been asked for suggestions for phrases to use to invite cooperation and that can be respectful.

Age 3 and up:

  • “Did you have a question for me?” (“How can I help you?”) when child makes a demand (“I want JUICE!!!!”)
  • “Check yourself” (are you doing what you need to be doing?”)
  • (When child is wrong, factually), “Well, that is another answer”.
  • When there is a problem: “What will you do next time so that this doesn’t happen?”

All ages:

  • “I am not available. I can help you (after you, when you, when I…).”
  • “THAT is not available; (the baby is using it, she has it). You can ask her to give it to you when she is done.”
  • “Next time… (I want you to wait until I am done to talk).”
  • “Say some more … (about what is going on; child is upset).
  • (When child makes a mistake, but was trying) “Thank you for taking a risk.”
  • “If I were you (I would walk away, find my pajamas).”
  • The words “choose, decide, pick, and act” puts the responsibility on the child, where it should be: “I see you chose to leave your raincoat at home”; “I noticed you decided to let your sister use that first.” “I wonder why you are picking to cry instead of using your words?” “How did you decide to act when she hit you?”
  • “You decide, or I’ll decide.” (Two choicesJ)
  • “Please make a decision.”
  • “Thank you for telling me, but this is not a choice/option.”
  • (I can’t find my shoes) “It sounds like you have a problem to solve.”
  • (Alternatively) Parent: “I want you to help me solve a problem; I don’t like dirty clothes on the floor in my house.”
  • “Do you want some help, or do you want more time?”
  • “I don’t like what I just heard.  What is another way to tell me/ask me?”
  • “Make a picture in your mind.” (Visualize how to do something before trying it.)
  • “Touch him gently” (tell child what TO do instead of what NOT to do.)
  • “Walking feet.” (When child resists) “Thank you for letting me know you need help; I will help you_______.”
  • Only ask once, then act, without talking, or simply saying: “Thank you for letting me know you need help. I will help you (put that away, let go of the baby, give me the scissors, hold my hand in the parking lot.)
  • “I would love for you to be here, but I need you to stop (whining/crying/complaining….).”
  • “Would you be so kind as to…?” (Who would say no to being kind?)
  • Repeat back to child the words that they used so that they know they were heard and understood. (“You are saying…. I hear you and I will help you in a minute.  You don’t need to tell me again.”)
  • Give the child in fantasy what you cannot give in reality: “I know that you like your friend so much that you wish you could play together for days and days.”
  • “Even though”: “Even though you wish you could play outside all day, it is time to go inside and make dinner.”
  • Describe what you see: “Wow, you are really crying loudly. And you are kicking your feet, too.  You are really sad and upset.”

These last are notes from an early Montessori observation:

  • “Whoever gets it out, puts it back.”
  • If a child is mishandling something: “Let me help you put that back.”
  • “Let me finish showing you this, and then we’ll talk.”
  • Focus the child’s attention (often silently) on the sensations of what you are doing: slowing down to walk, feeling the soap on their hands as you help them wash, looking at something silently.
  • Response to a child who is not using something correctly/carefully: “There is a special part of this that I want to show you.”
  • “I’d like to give you some help.” (Resists) “That’s not an option.”
  • If child is being focused and respectful, and time is not pressing, they have the right not to be interrupted.
  • Precise movements are attractive to a child and invite them to repeat what you are doing. Language is an abstraction of the action, so it is important that the child does the thing repeatedly before too much language is given or expected.
  • Children cannot report what they did before around age 7, as 1) the work is internal, and 2) the work is meeting a need and therefore is subjective, not objective.
  • “Come and get me when you are done.” To get child to finish something without your presence.
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Reframing

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Sometimes you need a new frame (=context).  A new point of view.  To see things from another angle.

My husband bought me some rain boots for Christmas.  The cute ones with flowers didn’t fit, so I got the leather ones.  Kinda cowboy-ish, but water proof, which is the point.  I love them.  They are great for mowing wet grass, walking on wet playgrounds, all things wet, which, In the mountains, is a lot of the time.  They are really comfy; no blisters, ever.

To me, they look very functional, like leather work gloves, and not fashionable at all.  But, one day, I wore them with a dress.  I wanted to wear the dress, and it was raining.  And I am a preschool teacher, not a model.

And got lots of compliments because: boots are fashionable.  Who knew?  Now I can wear them all the time, with anything.

As usual, this is a metaphor, as I certainly am minimally gifted in fashion.

Reframing, or redefining, is something I find myself doing, or attempting to do, with young children.  With boots, it seemed that, if boots are fashionable, I can wear them with a dress.

In Positive Discipline, we say that children’s “bad behavior” is an attempt at getting real needs met: needs for belonging and connection.  But, because they have not been alive very long, they are not always good at getting their needs met in appropriate ways.  And they, often cannot even express their needs.  So, we need to be the grown-ups (sorry!) and try to see thing from a different angle.  A new frame, or lens.  And maybe from their point of view. 🙂

We cannot change other people, only ourselves. Young children are irrational, often, and cannot explain themselves well, at times, or clearly.  And that is okay; it is one of the things we enjoy about them.  (I asked a 2 year old to repeat something her grandmother told me: “Where did your Yaya say you got those pretty curls?” Answer: “Poopypants.” This falls under : “I am not a performing dog, thanks.”)

So, instead of leaping to conclusions about motivations in young children, some open-ended questions can be very helpful for re-framing.

First, take a deep breath, and try to suspend your reaction for 20 seconds.  Long sigh.

Try these: ” How did that make you feel?” (“Did you like that?”); “Let’s see if we can find something good in this.”; “Would you like to try that again?”; “Is there something you want to ask me?” (in response to a demand; phrased poorly.); “What could you try next time so that this doesn’t happen?”; “I am not available.  I can help you (after you, when you, when I…).”; “THAT is not available; (the baby is using it, she has it). You can ask her to give it to you when she is done.”; “Next time…(I want you to wait until I am done to talk).”; “Say some more …(about what is going on; child is upset); (When child makes a mistake, but was trying) “Thank you for taking a risk.”; “If I were you ( I would walk away, find my pajamas).”; (The words “choose, decide, pick, act” puts the responsibility on the child, where it should be:) “I see you chose to leave your raincoat at home”; “I noticed you decided to let your sister use that first.” “I wonder why you are picking to cry instead of using your words?” “How did you decide to act when she hit you?”; “You decide, or I’ll decide.” (Two choices); “Please make a decision.”; “Thank you for telling me, but this is not a choice/option.” (Response to : “But I don’t WANT to…….”); (I can’t find my shoes) “It sounds like you have a problem to solve.” (said, please, with no sarcasm, but with trust that they can solve it.);(Alternatively) Parent: “I want you to help me solve a problem; I don’t like dirty clothes on the floor in my house.” (again, not said in anger, but in a spirit of shared interest.); “Do you want some help, or do you want more time?” (when there is more time to have!!”); “I don’t like what I just heard.  What is another way to tell me/ask me?”; “Make a picture in your mind.” (visualize how to do something before trying it.); “Touch him gently” (tell child what TO do instead of what NOT to do.): “Walking feet.”;  (When child resists) “Thank you for letting me know you need help; I will help you_______”; (Only ask once, then act, without talking, or simply saying:) “Thank you for letting me know you need help. I will help you (put that away, let go of the baby, give me the scissors, hold my hand in the parking lot.”); “I would love for you to be here, but I need you to stop “whining/crying/complaining….)”; and, many times: “Do you need a hug?” or “I need a hug after that.”

There.  From many, many sources.  And remember, not talking, or attempting to solve, and giving a “Hmmm” might get you to a deeper level.  Sometimes complaining, or crying, or yelling is just an attempt to connect; especially if it has worked before.  Or it may be an invitation to solve a problem themselves “”Where are my shoes?”; “Hmmmm”; “Oh, they are in my room!”

Less jumping to conclusions, less talking, often, more questions.

“Keep their feet moving”

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This may be an odd post for a Montessori teacher to make, but I love metaphors, so I hope this works for you.

I was sitting on the sofa, editing school photos on my laptop.  I was watching an infomercial by a horse trainer.  (Yes, I was.)  It was a kind of “Horse Whisperer” thing.  The question was : “How do I get my horse into a trailer?”  The words that jumped out at me were : “Keep their feet moving.”  Okay, you are not going to learn about how to get your horse onto a trailer in this post.  This is about young children, like the ones I work with.  And maybe about older children and adults, and me.

When children are struggling: sad, afraid, anxious, angry, defiant: “stuck”, there is often little we, at school, can do, but to “keep their feet moving.”

We often cannot solve whatever the child’s issue is.  We often do not know what it is.  They often do not know what it is.  We can offer some support (hug, lap, read a book, sing a song…), but, often, this is rejected.

When this is true, the kindest thing I know to do it to “keep their feet moving.”  That may mean that we gently take them by the hand and lead them away (from something) or toward (something or someone).  We often lead children toward a group of children who are calm and engaged.  This is something to observe and absorb.

Maybe this will show them that this is not such an awful place, or that there may be other ways to react, or other things to do, or try, or think about.  It may distract them long enough to shift their perspective.  It might interest, even fascinate them.

I don’t know what it may do, but I know that we all need to learn some strategies around what to do when we are “stuck”, and who and what might help.

I know that I want all children to know that they can move through hard things, and that there are many ways to do this.

I want children to know that they are not dependent on adults, or anyone to “make them feel better.”

I do not mean that we are not allowing children to feel what they feel, or that they should be distracted from their feelings.  But I do know that shifting gears can be hard, for all of us, and sometimes a change of scene (outside!!!!) or company, or perspective, may help.

A teacher at school was describing helping a child who was having a morning cry when her mother left.  After a bit, she offered her own support (hug, lap).  When that was not helpful, it was time to move: “I have not done all of my morning jobs, I need your help!”  Leading child to help with setting up dishes, getting ready for snack, doing some of the things that need to be done.  The child became calm, engaged, focused, interested, and felt useful and competent.  Perhaps, if you can cope with small things (dishes) you can cope with larger things (feelings)?

So, if all else fails, we can “keep their feet moving”, and do this for ourselves as well.

Your child as a teacher

A parent asked me recently why her third year child was grumpy at home, and, some days, didn’t want to go to school (new thing!).  (To clarify, in the Montessori classroom, there are at least 3 ages.  In my classroom, they range from 2-5.  Most children start at 2-3- first year-, 3-4 is second year, 4-5 is third year.  In that time, they move from fascinated newbies to competent olders.  We call the third year children “teachers” and expect a great deal of them.  They always perform. 🙂
It caused me to reflect on what “being a (third year) teacher” means.  It is a LOT more than having a “teacher badge”, and the full weight doesn’t hit them until they are doing it (kinda like parenting, eh?)
We are asking each of them, many times a day, to help us/another child, with a work the younger child has gotten out and doesn’t know how to do, find something, do a chore (dishwashing, putting plates away, making snack), finding their name for snack, washing their dish, using watercolors, finding the markers/clipboards, paper, finding their key word book in the folder and putting it away again, figuring out how to have snack, putting on their shoes, finding where this went on the shelf, putting on their underwear the right way, helping them up when they fall down, helping them wash their hands, listening to them read their key word book, helping them roll a rug……
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Not to mention offering comfort.  Story from yesterday that made my day:  Me:(with snuffling 2 year old on my lap) “5 year old, do you know of anything that would help 2 year old?” 5: (looks at 2): “Hmmm. Are you okay?” 2: “Yes!!” (???Keeps crying.) 5: “Do you want a hug?” 2: “YES!!!” (leaps up and they both hug, 30 seconds). 5: “Would you like some ice” (????) 2: “YES!!!!! (Leaps up and they go get ice together. Several other children want ice. Ice all around, via 5.) 
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What a great example of one of my favorite MM quotes: “a young child can learn something from an older child which they would never want to learn from an adult.”  So true, every day.
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So, if your child is grumpy and worn out after a morning at preschool (more than usual), they are working very hard.  They are using all of their problem-solving, empathy, and patience muscles, which, as we all know, is hard work.
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I will reassure you that we do not interrupt any “teacher” at his/her work, if we can help it; they are not here to sacrifice their own learning or process. We do not give them jobs that they would never want (“Can you clean up that vomit?”) or with children who are terribly upset or things which we think are too much.  They are “support staff”, and mostly doing things which we think they will enjoy /feel competent doing.  We are very appreciative of their help, always, and thank them.  We really are appreciative!
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The olders are the most enticing thing in the environment.  More so than the materials, and much more so than the adults.  They really ARE role models of concentration, self-directed activity, good humor, calm, purposeful movement, self-regulation, play, enthusiasm, and trust.  They are what convinces the new children that they actually can/will be able to cope in this new space, and may want to.
 
Warmly,
Mary

More on confidence

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Okay, how do I recognize confidence, or lack of it?

Confident children:

explore

try things

play independently

risk

ask for help

Children who lack confidence:

get stuck in activities/requests and repeat them without pleasure

don’t play

whine

try to keep adults involved with them

in a mixed group, prefer to talk to adults

talk about adult issues/concerns

get frustrated easily

tease others

do things for negative attention

(In very young children, some of these latter things can indicate boredom. Of course, don’t “entertain them” but help them switch gears :”I see you are bored with these blocks.  It is time to put them away and find something fun /go outside/feed the cat/ put your socks in your drawer.” Notes: I am not asking them, or listening when they protest.  If they are not engaged, they are bored.  if they are bored, it is my job to teach them how to get over being bored without having to pick a fight with me, the cat, the dog, or the blocks!)

To build confidence: if you have engaged adequately (they are not pining for a little adult one-on-one) change/create the environment (go outside and get so busy that they cannot get you engaged with them negatively, and have to find something to do), express confidence, don’t rescue or entertain, endure the learning curve (they don’t liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike it; it is uncomfortable), don’t get sucked into power struggles or the appearance of neediness, express more confidence, take care of yourself.

I believe, all children are hard wired for success, and all people must struggle a bit.  A healthy child will seek out appropriate struggles, and take them on when they are ready.

Confidence

Nailed-ItI have a wonderful quote on a cabinet at school that says something like: “Knowledge comes from experience, and experience comes with mistakes.”  I would add, that this is also true for confidence.

As a parent, we all want our children to be confident.  Not foolish or reckless, but willing to walk in, sit down and try.

As a teacher of preschoolers for a long time, this is something I expect from all preschoolers.  They may be afraid/angry (crying), but they are also curious and intrigued by new activities and people.

I remember one little girl, years ago, who came for a visit with her dad. She made it very clear that she wanted no eye contact or conversation with me, and sat behind her father.  He, of course, kept trying to coax her out.  This is not my first rodeo, so I knew to get something out, put it on a rug, and enjoy exploring it.  It almost doesn’t matter what I got, it is my interest that is intriguing.  Of course, she eventually crept out and joined in.  I knew not to try to “make friends” unless she initiated it.  That was not what we were doing.  We were exploring together. My job was to present the opportunity (“create the environment” is what Montessorians say) and then wait, but not passively.  In a Montessori classroom, the children are attracted by the materials, and the activity of the other people, particularly the other children.  That is why it is so important to have “experienced” children; i.e multi-aged grouping, but that is another essay. 🙂

We create an interesting environment, with busy people in it, and there is so much to watch and touch, we hope that the child will be drawn in, without any coersion from any of us.  It happens, with time, for almost everyone. (For those who are not interested in anything, there is not much I know to do.)

Back to confidence.  It takes confidence to enter in, and it takes entering in to build confidence.  This is a hard one.  It would be nice if we all learned confidence with every move we made, from birth, but that cannot always happen, for many reasons.

So, sometimes, we have to create the environment and wait.  Not everyone likes the stretching it takes to take that first step; it is uncomfortable.  This reminds me of a time in a new school.  I was about 12.  For many reasons (some to do with my lousy eyesight, and how long I went without glasses before anyone noticed how blind I am!), I felt terrible at “sports” or games.  In a new school, I had a new game (hockey), which I was sure I would hate as much as every other game (kickball, softball, dodgeball…..)  My stance was to stand as far away from the action as possible, and endure.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful coach.  She took the time to put me in a position and explain to me what my job was.  And to make sure it was very simple: “If you get the ball, pass it to this person.”  That’s it.  Then, she followed along a bit, and told me again, when the time came.  After one success, my confidence grew, of course, and the fun of being part of a team was evident, for the first time.  I never was a hockey star, but I loved every game I played from then on.

I will say, she didn’t give me the option of sitting out every game until I graduated.  She didn’t give me pity or too much help.  She didn’t say that, since I was skinny, nearsighted, and terrified looking, I should just give it up, even though everyone else had been playing since Kindergarten. She certainly didn’t offer to do it for me.  She gave me a simple task, and expressed confidence that I could do it.  Then she let me go.  She didn’t give me a trophy, either, but a smile. (Thanks, Mrs. Callahan!)

So, sometimes creating the environment includes expressing faith and then leaving them to it (How much instruction is needed?  It is often hard to know….”Every unnecessary help is a hindrance.”  Maria Montessori. That one is a moving target.  We do get better with practice, and, observing.  One answer might be: “Less than you think.”)

The goals: confidence, independence, new interests, joy.

Times have changed

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I had a nice talk with a parent yesterday.  She feels that her young children may need “more” than what she can do at home, they may need to be with other children and get the “social skills thing” expanded a bit. She thought they might benefit from learning to trust other adults.  She could use a bit of a break.  She feels guilty about that.  And childcare is expensive…

Above is a picture of part of my husband, John’s family on the front page of the newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi in around 1955.  He is the cutie sitting down on the far left.  This is a typical Sunday lunch!  This is how he grew up, in this pack of loving adults and cousins.  Of course, they were not always loving.  There were some smacked bottoms in those days; it was the 50s, after all!  But mostly accepted, listened to, taught, shared.

John’s mom had this pack of nice grownups with ownership for these kids.  The kids had several houses to run to, lots of folks with whom to walk downtown to the grocery store, bank, 5 and Dime, drug store with soda shop, and school.  Lots of grownups to correct you when you screwed up, and to notice when you didn’t.  A community of kids from whom to learn “social skills”, like not to pick your nose, and not to punch your big sister, who is stronger than you.

Without all of this, it is nice to have “school”.  It is nice to extend your pack of grownups and kids.

I’m thankful that Hillary Clinton made her “it takes a village” speech, because we had forgotten that many of us had a village, growing up, and that it helped, a lot.

Here’s to your village.