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December 16, 2020

We Don't Need To Fix Every Feeling

I was washing dishes the other day and heard a familiar screech. Peaking around the corner, I could see that Theodore was struggling to place a ball onto one of his stacking toys. I just sat and quietly observed what he was going to do. He definitely let out some feels, screaming, throwing one of the balls, and then eventually got one of the balls on the pegs. Once he was successful, a quiet calm came to him and he went to retrieve the ball he had thrown in frustration. 

This whole incident is a common one in our house right now. Frustration bubbles over from time to time with all of our kids. But, honestly, it's very common with Teddy. One of the beautiful gifts that Montessori parenting has given me is the ability to accept my children for exactly who they are and really step back to observe the path they are on. And that includes accepting their inherent temperament. There is no one temperament that is suited to Montessori, not every Montessori child will be some bubbly, happy, easy-going child. Some will be more serious (have you noticed Teddy is rarely smiling in photos?!), some will be more flexible, some will be more outwardly joyful. And, that's ok. 

Children are always working hard to create and adapt to their environment. They are literally building the adult person they will become. Maria Montessori (in the 1946 London Lectures, p 82) says, "We cannot tell what any man born today will do. He is not obliged by nature to do any particular thing...He must construct his own adaptation and his own behavior in the world. It is an individual construction like that of language." This is hard work. A range of feelings will accompany it. Our role as Montessori parents isn't to fix the feeling, to only allow our child to feel "happy," "joy," or "content." 

No, our role is to be there to help when asked. We can stand by and observe. We need to help our children to learn about their complete range of emotions and how to deal with those emotions. We can accept who they are and support their temperament with our own expectations and responses. We can prepare our environment for our children's success. 

Practically, for me, this means doing a few things:
  • Always acknowledging and naming feelings that my children are experiencing. By giving it a name we are normalizing it, recognizing and accepting it. "I see that you are angry that you couldn't get the ball on the peg. It's hard to feel angry." 
  • Give tools to handle and work through difficult emotions. "I'm here for you do you need a hug?" "A deep breath can help when we are frustrated." And for younger children just modeling these calming tools throughout the day. 
  • Avoid creating any negative connotations with hard emotions. This means avoiding phrases like "big boys don't cry" or things like that. We accept that every emotion is valid and has its place. 
  • Deeply observing the environment when there is repeated frustration. We do want to create an environment where our children are both challenged but feel success. If I'm seeing continual frustration over something in particular, I'm going to think about how I can modify my environment to make the process easier for my child. This might mean making a physical change to the environment (like moving something around) or it might mean making a spiritual change (maybe to my expectations or via a grace and courtesy lesson). 
It's not always easy, but we have to remember that the "goal" of Montessori isn't to create children that are always happy. The goal is to respect the path that they are on, to allow them as much independence as they need in a given moment, and see them as a whole person working hard on their development.

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