Mister Montessori Man: Hi Sam. I see that you’re counting money on the table.
Sam: Yeah. I’m saving my money; I’m saving it up. Every time I get some I save it up. I save it up every time I get some.
Mr. M: That’s great Sam! Are you saving it up to buy something?
Sammy: I’m gonna buy lots and lots of SEX!
Mr. M: …
Mr. M: I’m sorry Sam? Say again?
Sam: I’m gonna buy lots and lots of Lego sex!
Mr. M: *exhaling deeply*…Ahh…That’s a great idea Sam. You should definitely buy lots and lots of Lego SETS.
So that about sums up why I chose to take a 75% pay cut to become a Primary Montessori teacher…or “guide” or “director” as we prefer to call it. They’re hilarious. Children have fantastic minds and incredible memories; memories so good that it’s tempting to take them at their word, even when those words include tales of monsters, dinosaurs, and the intent to hire a prostitute. They’re weird little creatures.
As any good child psychologist will tell you, if you want to get closer to the actual truth, as opposed to THEIR own truth, or worse, YOUR own truth, it is necessary to be more patient and less assumptive. You can’t imagine for a moment that what you hear and then interpret in your 3 year Old’s words is even close to the actual concrete that they are trying to reference.
If, for example, I had chosen to say…’you want to buy sex!?!? With a prostitute?!? You could go to jail for that, you realize!?!? Where did you hear that word?!?!” then my understanding of him would have been completely different. He would have become scared and defensive and would soon begin looking for an answer which appeases the large angry grownup.
I would estimate that about half of the time a parent is upset with a classroom, teacher, or school, it is a direct result of believing to strongly in their child’s interpretations. So when a child with poor impulse control who often attacks other children has parents who are concerned that he is being bullied when his peers ask him to not hit them or interfere in their works, that MAY be them believing in his poor interpretations. It may also be the case that poor interpretations are believed when a 4 year old girl, with excellent social skills, who utilizes that capacity to engineer her less cognizant friends into fights and animosity, complains bitterly to her parents when the “mean girl” methods she has employed the entire year, are turned back on her and we hear from the parents, “Madison says that she doesn’t have any friends at school and she said that Monica said she wasn’t going be her friend anymore”
Now you might be wondering, “…but Mister Montessori Man, what should we do if our child comes to us and is suffering with discomfort? We can’t just let him just deal with these unpleasantries of life on his own can we?” To that I answer, resoundingly, yes you can…usually. Unhappiness is no sin, and is, in point of fact, a great teacher. A far better teacher than I ever hope to be. Unhappiness and discomfort are great indicators to children that they’ve made a mistake with their bodies or their social lives or anything else, and that in the future they should be more careful, or try a different approach. They are the effects to the causes which they created moments before and shielding them from those effects is very rarely a favor. To paraphrase Herbert Spencer, the ultimate effect of shielding preschoolers from folly is to fill the world with fools. And make no mistake about it, your 3 year old is a fool but if you let him skin a knee and lose a friend or two he won’t have to stay that way.
Of course there are times when your hover-parent gene kicks in and you just can’t help yourself and there’s the odd circumstance where the child truly is in a bad situation. What to do then? As I said initially, be patient. It’s not A way, but truly the only way that you can come even remotely close to understanding the truth. Avoid asking why(unless you’re just bored) and rather ask them what happened, to them, then, importantly, what they did before that that may have caused it. Ask open ended questions and let him flow through his bizarre stream of consciousness retelling of the event. Ask about the details he brings up and see where it goes. It’s usually a lot of fun. Avoid adding detail of your own to the questions or they are certain to make them part of the story.
Parenting Tip #001 Your child’s Montessori Directress knows you’re child in a way that you usually don’t. They act differently for you. I promise you (e.g. separation anxiety screams of terror stop instantaneously the second, not the minute, but the very second you walk out of view) We get a sort of 3rd person omniscient view and can explain from a more objective standpoint what issues your child is struggling with and suggest how to help them but we won’t if you are the least bit defensive so leave your baggage at the door.
Parenting Tip #002 You need not be concerned over our judgment of your parenting abilities based on your child’s behavior. Almost every child I’ve met would, if they were an adult, be diagnosed with a serious psychological disorder. Narcissism is common, Hypochondria, Bipolar, Borderline, they all have something. Usually those issue go away as a part of growing up, but if you refuse to acknowledge it, you can’t deal with it when their young an pliant and easily solvable. So acknowledge it and move on. It’s not a reflection on you. They’re just weird little creatures.
Mister Montessori Man