The Montessori model of education requires a good deal of independence and self-regulation of its students. Not every child shows up with these qualities in full bloom. Here are some ways that you can support your child’s success, at home:
- Respect your child. While honoring the child she is, also honor the adult she will become. You will spend much longer in the company of the adult version of her, than the child manifestation you see now. Listen to your child. Let her know she’s important (but, not the center of the universe!). Be deliberate in your interactions, because you are helping her to sculpt her future self.
- Allow your child to do for herself what she can do for herself. Too many parents equate doing things for their children with good parenting, when the exact opposite is true. If your goal is to raise an independent adult human, then you sabotage your child every time you rush to help her with things that she can manage alone. Not only do you rob her of the opportunity to practice new skills, but you also send the message that she is incapable. Stand back, let your child figure it out. You’ll know when she really needs your help, and that’s when you can offer it.
- When you do offer help, seize the opportunity to teach. Don’t just rush through the doing. Break down the task into precise steps. Use a minimum of language as you demonstrate. Repeat the process, when applicable, and then offer your child a chance to try it herself. The time you lose in teaching, you gain back exponentially as your child becomes independent in the skill.
- Expect responsibility from your child. In line with item 1 up there, when it comes to picking up, if your child can do it, she should be doing it. There is absolutely no reason why you should be picking up after your child once she is physically capable of doing it herself. You can’t rush around, cleaning up after your child, her whole childhood and then suddenly expect her to turn into a paragon of cleanliness once the teenage years hit. That’s not going to happen!
- Help create organization by having simple systems and procedures in place at home. Establish routines: When you come in from school here’s where you hang your jacket (hang a low coat hook or two for your child), here’s what you do with our lunch box (have her empty it and wash the reusable containers), here’s where you put your work folder (have her check for notes from school), here’s where you put your shoes, and so on.
- It’s not enough for your child to just be responsible for cleaning up after herself, she should also contribute to the good of the family. As soon as she is physically able, engage your child in meaningful chores. Sure, for a while it’ll likely create even more work for you, but your child will be living in your house for a long time, so it is time well spent. You won’t end up spending your days cleaning, and your child will feel like a valuable and contributing member of your family.
- Allow your child to feel empowered by giving her choices. In the morning, you can offer your child to pick one of two outfits to wear for school. You don’t swing open the closet door and ask your child to come up with an ensemble; that’s overwhelming. Limited choices are empowering AND manageable.
- While offering choices, remember that your child is not the boss. Don’t ever give that sort of power to your child. It does not help her to feel safe, and it creates a very unhealthy family dynamic. Your child must always know that, while she is supported in independence, and given choices, you are the ultimate authority. When you say no, quietly and firmly, she will know, because you have never given her any reason to doubt it, that you really, really mean it.
- Don’t use bribes and punishments to motivate your child. You want to raise an adult who doesn’t need to be incentivized or threatened to make good choices. Use natural consequences when possible. If the rule is no running inside, and your child runs, crashes into something and gets hurt, that’s a natural consequence. Be sure to draw the line between the two things, in a matter of fact, rather than condescending way. When natural consequences aren’t available, try to find a logical consequence. If your child refuses to use something in the house respectfully, then she doesn’t get to use it for a time. If your child doesn’t clean up after herself then she doesn’t get to take that same toy or game out again for a time. These consequences are delivered in a calm and clear way – “I see you didn’t put your toys away nicely when you were finished using them. That tells me you aren’t ready to be responsible for those toys yet. That means you won’t be able to take them out again for a while.” Stay firm. You must mean what you say, or don’t say it at all.
- Be careful of praise. In keeping with the previous point, you don’t want your child to do things solely to please you. Praise is just another extrinsic reward. You don’t want to praise your child for things she comes by effortlessly, like beauty or intelligence. You do want to notice her effort when faced with a challenge, her ability to persist, her patience, her kindness. And when you do notice those things, you want to do so in a way doesn’t reduce the value of what she has achieved down to how it makes YOU feel. No more, “Good girl. I’m so proud of you!”. You want your child to feel proud of herself, to feel empowered, to notice the effort it took to be successful. Change a few words here and there and your encouragements will become far more effective and positive. Instead of saying, “I’m so proud of you”, say, “You must feel so proud of yourself”. Instead of saying, “You’re so smart”, say “I can see how hard you worked on that”. You don’t want to raise a people-pleaser. You want to raise an adult who can see the value in her hard work in terms of how it makes her feel, and how it positively impacts her community. Editing your praise can really help with this.
These are just a few pointers to set your child on the road to success in her Montessori classroom.