My 4 year old son, John, with Captain Hook at Disney World
Does it feel like your child never listens to you? Or that what you’ve been using isn’t working anymore? Does this picture above feel like you sometimes? 😉 Good news! There ARE ways you can communicate with your child that are more effective than sharp impaling devices. 😉
Imagine a classroom filled with two year olds and YOU. For some people, this sounds like the beginning of a horror film. Yet our Sunrise Montessori teachers are able to successfully communicate the rules in such a way that their students follow them without resorting to pixie dust.
Phrases we use in the Montessori classroom
1. Acknowledge effort: “I saw you working hard.”
Praising your child’s hard work, rather than his results, helps instill a growth mindset where he believes he can improve through his own efforts. Instead of telling your child,“You’re a good boy,” tell him “I noticed you being kind to your little brother yesterday when you shared your truck.” This shows him you see his good behavior, without placing judgments on him.
2. Replace yes or no questions with a choice: “You can stand in line to go outside or hold my hand.”
Independence is another key value in any Montessori classroom or home. Our goal as teachers is to help the children do things for themselves. So while it’s sometimes easier to simply answer a child’s question about where something is or how to do something, we often answer questions with another question such as“Where could you look for that?” or “Which friend could you ask for help?” If your son loses his shoe and you see it peeking out from under the bed, try asking leading questions, rather than just handing it to him. “Where were you when you took your shoes off? Have you checked your room?” This may take a little more time, but it will be worth it when he starts taking more initiative and coming to you less.
3. Use positive discipline: “Which part would you like my help with?”
In a Montessori classroom, children are responsible for many things, including taking care of their environment. Children often take great pride in this responsibility, spending time arranging flowers to put on tables, watering the garden, and happily washing the windows and tables. Sometimes though, a job is just too big and overwhelming. In these cases, we ask the child how we can help. We don’t want to swoop in and “save the day,” sending the message that the child is not capable, but we also don’t want to leave the child overwhelmed. For example: If your child is tired, but needs to put her Legos away before bed, all of those pieces can be overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing though. Try “which color would you like me to put away” or “I’ll put away the yellow pieces and you put away the blue” to show that you’re in it together.
4. Remind rather than demand: “In our class, we ….”
This little phrase is used to remind the children of any number of rules and desired behaviors. Phrasing reminders as objective statements about how the community or family works, rather than barking commands, is much more likely to elicit cooperation from a child. “In our class, we sit while we eat” is less likely to incite a power struggle than “Sit down.” At Sunrise Montessori, we try to always tell the child what behavior we want to see rather than telling them to stop what they are doing (instead of “don’t run,” we say “please use your walking feet”).
5. Tell them what they can do: “Friends, we are now going to…”
Children, especially toddlers, like to hear what they can do rather than what they can’t, and this adjustment will encourage self-confidence and independence. Instead of telling them “Don’t get paint on the table!” you might say “You can paint on the white paper.” Toddlers are infamous for expressing their will in many ways – very often with the word “no,” and for testing limits set in their environment. Don’t give them a chance to say no! If you give a choice and they won’t answer, just repeat the question. If they still won’t choose, then tell them that you will have to choose for them.
6. Avoid using the word “no” as much as possible: “Yes, I can see you want that right now. How about you…”
When a child hears “no”, they typically only want to do whatever they are doing more. Save the word “no” for instances of safety. Then when you use it, it becomes much more powerful and they are that much more likely to follow it.
7. Give them boundaries and stick to them: “I’m so sad that you pushed your friend down. I need you to take a seat. I’ll be back to speak with you after I check on our friend.”
When all else fails, and you’ve tried everything but it’s not working, or they act in a way that is clearly not acceptable, you need to show them that you care for them and how they are acting is not okay. Sometimes a child doesn’t care about the rules because they are upset and speaking to them isn’t going to work. Give them time to cool off, think about what they’ve done, and then check in to ask them what they are feeling and why they acted the way they did. Even then, they could be tired and reason isn’t going to work. The point is, you exhaust all you have in your toolbox first. Think of the word “no” like a last resort.
My son is now 16 years old and we’re still going through this the tug of war. When I’m tired, I find myself saying the phrase that I swore I never would, “Because I said so and I am your mother.” (I don’t know that he needs reminding that I am his mom, but it feels good for some strange reason to jog his memory anyway). The best outcomes to our conversations though are when I practice the Montessori way of communicating. This past summer, he wanted to eat out for lunch, but was short on cash. I could have just handed him money or told him I wouldn’t pay him and then thrown in some relic my parents used to say, but with an 80’s twist, like “You know, my parents never gave me a hand out, and it was good for me. And I walked up a hill to get to school. In my gel sandals!” Instead, I asked him how much wanted, then asked him, “Gee, that sure is frustrating. Any ideas on how you’re going to get that?” We agreed he would cut the grass to earn it. If the grass didn’t need to be cut, I would have told him no eventually, but I would like to hope that I would have tried. Or told him to ask his father and then text Rob to not to give him money. 😉 It’s a dance. If you simply tell your child “no” all the time, it loses its power for when you REALLY need it. Like for the time that your child asks to practice driving with you now that they have their driver’s permit. So save up those no’s. Your child’s future behavior, and your sanity, will thank you.