As a current Age of Montessori student, I have been touched and inspired by Maria Montessori’s great respect for the internal world of the child. In particular, I was touched this past week by her comments about adult prejudices in discipline. Montessori said,
“When the independent life of the child is not recognized with its own characteristics and its own ends, when the adult man interprets these characteristics and ends, which are different from his, as being errors in the child which he must make speed to correct, there arises between the strong and the weak a struggle which is fatal to mankind.”
This takes me to such a humbled place. With little time, I can quickly recall many instances where I interpreted the “independent life of a child” as bad or wrong, and felt I should quickly resolve the situation with discipline tools. For example, when I saw a child continuing to play with toys after I asked him to put them away and come to the dinner table, I labeled that as the child “misbehaving.” When, in fact, this is not necessarily the case. I was not respecting the child’s innate drive to be more interested in a toy or game than in my directions to come to the dinner table.
My agenda, thoughts, values do not reside inside the child’s mind as I might assume. Innately, he has his own internal world, and I have a great opportunity to first observe and be curious about that world, before asking him to consider the ideas of my internal world.
“Get Curious, Not Furious”
Montessori was so incredibly wise in this area and knew that in order to be effective with any sort of discipline, you must start by observing and respecting the child’s rights as a profound human being. As a parenting coach, this brings me to remembering the words of Families First, Missoula: “Get Curious, Not Furious.” The mantra is a quick phrase that helps me enact Maria Montessori’s principles in the difficult moments of real life. When you notice yourself getting furious with a child, let that be a prompt to consider the opposing value to “get curious” instead. Resist the “should” in your mind, and take on an attitude of respect and wonder for the internal world of the child that is driving his behavior.
In practice, this could look like walking over to the child who is not coming to the dinner table and looking with him at the toy saying, “It looks like you are really enjoying your time with these blocks. You have been playing with them for a while, so I bet you have really been enjoying the mountain over here and the tower over there. Wow! What fun.” After taking the time to observe and describe what might be going on in his internal world, you can then begin to discuss the ways to bring that activity to a close, with respect for the child’s perspective. You can offer choices such as “Would you like to have 3 more minutes or 5?” All the while, you can also use empathy words if they don’t like the request to end the activity, such as “I know. It is really hard to end an activity you have been enjoying so much. I really have a hard time with ending things I’m enjoying too.” All are examples of how to step away from your adult prejudice and decrease conflict by honoring the child’s inner world first and foremost.
In the Age of Montessori teachings, I learned “This understanding of the conflict between adults and children and its roots in adult prejudices is one of Montessori’s great philosophical and psychological contributions.” What a profound contribution indeed. If you approach a child with your own biases and prejudice about what they “should” be doing, you will likely hit resistance from the child, and to label that resistance as “misbehavior” would be a great error.