When Your Kids Don’t Cooperate
Many parents visiting a Montessori early childhood centre for the first time often notice that the children there are very well behaved. They say please and thank you (part of the graciousness strand of Montessori learning), and they tidy up their equipment when they’ve finished with it (part of self-care and part of the culture of orderliness). And this is often the deciding factor for many parents – a polite child who tidies up and is considerate of others is a child who makes him/herself happy, makes the parents happy and makes others happy.
And it would be so nice to say that all children who attend a Montessori early childhood learning centre would turn out into perfect little angels who are unfailingly polite, compliant and orderly. However, this would not be true. Are you always unfailingly polite, compliant and orderly? Well, your children won’t be, either. There will be times when your children will not want to pick up after him/herself and put the equipment from an activity away when they’re done with it. And there will be times when your children are rude and offensive to you and to others. And there will also be times when your children, simply because they are immature, will want to do something dangerous, stupid or selfish, and will look at you like you’re stark raving bonkers when you insist.
Most activities in a Montessori centre are designed to be self-correcting, so if the child doesn’t quite do things right he/she can see that it’s come out wrong and can correct their mistake. For example, if you don’t stop soon enough when pouring a glass of water, the glass overflows all over the bench or the floor. If you stack blocks in the wrong order, the tower falls down. But issues such as politeness and tidying up after yourself aren’t self-correcting – in fact, a rude, aggressive child often ends up getting his/her own way if they cross swords with a more compliant one. And you don’t want a child to have to learn the hard way from something dangerous. The time will come when you will have to pull rank as the parent: the responsible, wiser and more mature adult.
So what do you do when Jessica or Jason stares at you and says “I won’t!” when you tell him/her to put away the plastic animals because it’s time for dinner or to go to bed? What if your child won’t say please or thank you? What about when a fight breaks out between siblings? What happens when your child blurts out that rude word they heard the next door neighbour saying when he hit his thumb with a hammer?
The saying please and thank you issue is the easiest one to deal with. If your child hasn’t asked properly, then he/she doesn’t get they’ve asked for. And you don’t release the desired item from your hand until you have been properly thanked. Remember that children will copy what you do – that’s how a Montessori teacher teaches – so be careful to use these common courtesies when you interact with others, and that includes your child.
If a fight breaks out between two siblings, the first step is to separate the combatants (not easy to do if you’re in a car and you can’t stop – that’s one of the tricky situations all parents hate). Confine them in separate rooms, separate corners or separate chairs where they can’t hit each other and (if possible) can’t talk to each other. Let the children calm down. If the source of the conflict is obvious, then use your judgement and make the offender apologise, give the toy back, rebuilt the knocked-down tower or whatever is appropriate. If you haven’t seen the whole conflict and the first you knew about it was a howl of rage and indignation or Jessica running to tell on Jason (and it usually is girls who run to tell on others), then question the participants separately and find out the full story. The one who did the screaming or the tattling isn’t always the offended party – remember your own childhood when one sibling (usually younger) would taunt, tease and hassle the other one until the older one retaliated – and then the younger one went off howling and the older one got in trouble!
Sometimes, the offender refuses to apologise. In this case, the Incredibly Boring Cuddle technique can be used: you hold the child on your lap facing away from you and you do not let them go until they have apologized. The child in question will struggle and protest, but be persistent. You’re the adult.
The Incredibly Boring Cuddle technique can be used if a child refuses to tidy up (or do some other thing that they’ve been told to): they can’t get up off your lap until they’re ready to do as they’re told. If you know you have a particularly stubborn child to deal with and you have other demands on your time, then Time Out can be used – the child has to sit on the Naughty Chair, in the Naughty Corner or in a room until they are ready to cooperate. The bedroom doesn’t have to be used as a Time Out room – the laundry often works well because it’s usually a boring place to sit and wait in.
What about swear words? It would be hypocritical for you to be annoyed at a child for using the same words that you do – maybe just a quick talk about these words being not very polite and only OK in the family, the same as tatty play clothes. If a child has learned the word from elsewhere and brings it home, use judgement to work out whether he/she is aiming to shock you or just doesn’t know any better. Refuse to be shocked (or to laugh), and calmly explain exactly what the word means and mention that it isn’t polite.
A child wanting to do something stupid and dangerous (e.g. taking off a seatbelt in a moving car or trying to poke something metal into a power point) must be stopped. Young children are often completely unaware of potential danger and need to be saved from themselves. This is a situation that certainly warrants more forceful measures on the parents’ part – something a Montessori teacher isn’t legally permitted to do. A single sharp slap on the arm, leg or backside (or the threat of it) usually acts as a good deterrent that the child can understand, and is still legal in Australia.
Parenting isn’t easy. You are going to have conflict with your child. Just remember to stay in charge and be the parent – it’s better for your child in the long run.