A Wake-up Call
We were on our way back from San Diego, in the "witching hours" of the night. Our return flight from Minneapolis-Saint Paul had a lengthy layover starting at 8:40 PM and would not be arriving to Grand Rapids until close to midnight. It was a long walk to the next gate and the children were unusually energetic, but predictably curious and emotional.
To get things going, my husband forced my overly tired two-year-old daughter in the wagon and gave the iPad to my four-year-old son, who was delighted and quietly sat in front of her. We walked rapidly, my hand holding my wailing daughter in the wagon (hoping to reassure her), and my 9 month old strapped on my back, my other hand lugging our small carry-on bag. After what felt like the longest walk, filled with stares and judgement (or so it seems), we arrived at the gate. I immediately unbuckled my daughter. I thought she would stop crying as I hugged her tight and acknowledged her feelings. But she continued to cry.
Then, my husband had to take the iPad from our son as we prepared to board. That didn't go well either. Thankfully, my 9 month old didn't fuss at all despite the ruckus.
"...I do say that "don'ts" are far less effective - indeed they are often harmful when they fill a young child with fear or resentment- than providing him with some alternative activity at which he may work joyfully, forgetting all about the previous activity or behavior which you were anxious for him to stop"
Relieved that we made it to the gate, I took out the water doodle activity pack I brought for situations like this and hoped for the best. It was like an off switch; my eldest child stopped whining and my daughter stopped crying. I fed their curiosity and both were quietly focused on the activity. We were able to re-organize ourselves and prepare to board in peace.
Sitting on the plane as the kids took a quick nap, I realized that things like these happen in our daily lives. We rush… we take control… children act out… we do more harm than good. I pondered and looked back, very curious to know, if we spent a few more minutes trying out ways on how to get our kids to cooperate, would it take less time than dealing with the acting out later on? More importantly, could we have spared them the distress? We set up that stage for them, and we have dealt with the consequences, either way.
On a deeper note, the same thing holds true with education and a child's development. The process is as important as the goal. I referred to Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents, which Stepping Stones Montessori recommended to us during one of our Parent Coffees. The chapter entitled "Parents Can Be Too Loving" gave me a huge awakening.
"If we are wise, we shall mix understanding with our love."
I am guilty of wanting my child to have a good education and get a lucrative job. In my mind, that would make them happy and fulfilled. I mean, is there a parent who doesn’t want this for their child? But I am also guilty of sometimes forgetting the most important element to make this happen: my child.
"It is tremendously important that we should understand the spontaneous way in which the child develops himself."
I must admit, practicing what I learned, this past year in real life, is the other side of the coin. I grew up in an Asian and authoritarian household, so it's not easy for me to take a step back, instruct less and observe more. In our culture, a child is like a blank canvas that needs to be filled with things they need to learn in life as well as correct the things that we perceive as undesirable. Otherwise, they will be empty, clueless, or uncontrollable. Needless to say, that's a lot of weight on parents' shoulders.
It was refreshing to learn more (as I read different resources and attend educational meetings, both provided by Stepping Stones)... To learn that our children have an innate capability to learn and that in their own work, they know more than us parents.
Trusty Three: Love with Respect and Understanding
I typically do a daily rundown, reflecting on the choices and mistakes I made and what I could've done better. That exhausting day was no different. There are three things that consistently pop in my mind, whenever I try to figure out what I lacked during a significant, challenging time for one of my kids:
Unconditional love: Did I still show them my love, despite their misbehavior or mistakes?
Respect: Did I speak in a respectful way, without shaming or inciting fear?
Understanding: Did I take a moment to watch and listen to see what my child is trying to tell me or to know where the behavior is coming from?)
I'm eager to see how the Montessori Method will help my children achieve their full potential. I am a witness of what it can do for my kids' behavior, on those times that I have succeeded in applying them. I'm hopeful, that it will help them achieve success and resilience.
Frigga Jacob is a physician and a mindful parent of three curious children, one of whom attends Stepping Stones.