child-brain-development

We have recently had a most challenging child at school: very, very bright, and struggling very hard to self-soothe during adjustments or transitions.  Any transitions at all, including things that the child wanted to do, like get out his lunch and eat a cookie, caused crying.

What I have learned from this child: patience, empathy, respect for hard work, and also, when the child can be calm, it is his brain which does the most to help him.  Not that a lap, or a hug, or a empathetic look or remark does not help him calm down, a lot.  But, ultimately, it is when his mind is engaged, when he is intrigued or fascinated or curious or observant or amused, and his brain is working, that he is the most calm, during turbulent times.

This does not mean that we try to distract him with flashing lights and funny clowns, but calmly demonstrate something intriguing, and sit back.  We model our own enjoyment, and invite.

There has been a lot for me to learn in watching this process unfold.

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.

Helping form “deciders” :)

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Why is this so hard? I found myself doing this to my grown daughter the other day: “I will just interrupt you now and tell you the right answer.” Guess what? I wasn’t helpful, or even right! Damn.

I deal with young decider interns all the time, aged 2-5. There is a time to teach: “this is how to hold a hammer, please wear these goggles to protect your eyes. Friends, please move back while he uses the hammer.” and a time to ask wondering questions. “I wonder what you can use to do that?”

They will respect your input more if you respect their process more.

And, if you really wonder, you might see something that will tell you a lot about a child, or that may help you see a gap in their understanding. In fact, you may learn something!

Behavior is the tip of the iceberg

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http://www.positivediscipline.com/files/MistakenGoalChart.pdf

This comes from Positive Discipline, which is based on the work of Adler and Dreikurs. More here http://www.adlerian.us/dealing.htm.

The biggest clue for which mistaken goal your child is living in is how you feel.

Check the chart: annoyed, irritated, worried, guilty- attention; angry, challenged, threatened, defeated- power; hurt, disappointed, disbelieving, disgusted- revenge; despair, hopeless, helpless, inadequate- assumed inadequacy.

We all have a right to attention, power, empathy and help, but children do not know how to ask for these appropriately, or at a good time. Either do we, as adults, do we?

So, again, we are teachers.

A parent friend told me a lovely story about a family member redirecting a “bad” child to her lap; he only wanted attention, and got it there. A power child needs some appropriate control; a revengeful child wants to be heard; a discouraged child needs some support, and less help.

Is this easy- no!

It may feel like rewarding bad behavior. This is old school thinking. If you have had a bad day, and want to tell your husband about it, what would happen to your relationship if he said: “If you can’t say anything pleasant, go to your room until you can.” Wow. However, he doesn’t have to be your doormat, either. He can say: “I hear you’ve had a rough day; so have I. I’m going to walk the dog, and then I’ll be ready to hear your news when I get back.” Respect for everybody.

A child’s self-confidence is vulnerable to assistance

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http://www.teacherasaresearcher.com/blog/when-a-child-loses-their-self-trust

A lovely post from a very observant Reggio teacher. She describes, beautifully, how a child who is “helped” can be “injured”.

“Every unnecessary help is a hindrance.” Maria Montessori.

I know, it is very difficult to know when help is unnecessary, especially with a child at home whose abilities are changing by the hour!

I will tell you, it is often better to seem too busy to help, or to reply: “Hmmmm?’, and see what happens. If a child is tired of waiting for help, they may attempt it on their own.

I will also, sometimes, leave a child with the words: “Come get me if you need help.” Not having me nearby makes it more sensible to keep trying.

Another good “teacher phrase” is “Try it as if you know how.”