Parents Are Also a Work in Progress

Many parents are familiar with the quote, “Please be patient, I’m a work in progress” as it relates to children, but seldom do we contemplate that adults are also a work in progress, especially as parents. Once you gaze into those bright eyes and caress those tiny fingers you have started down your own uncharted path as a parent and each day you learn something new about yourself, your child and your relationships. Parenting is an action that can never truly be mastered and requires the individual to recognize that they too are growing. That can be a scary realization, to know you may never have all of the answers, but it can also liberating. It means that each day you can start fresh and be better than the day before.

I recently had the opportunity to attend two workshops. The first offered by mother, grandmother and

Pro-social behaviors

Pro-social behaviors

veteran Montessori guide and administrator Pat Luddick as she spoke on Montessori Parenting. The second was a class offered by the Oregon Center for Childcare entitled “Positive Behavior Intervention and Support: Module I”. While the two presentations sound as though they are vastly different, they did have a few common threads that form a basis for parenting or guiding the growth of children. When stripped of their lineages the end goal was helping children to use prosocial behaviors, take responsibility for their actions and have respect for themselves and others.

Two Different Presentations Boiled Down

Ms. Luddick premised her presentation with her “Building Blocks of Belonging.” These were Grace and Courtesy, Language, Work and Community which are achieved in partnership with the school and home. The PBIS module is a “systems approach which establishes the social culture and behavior supports needed for schools to be effective learning environments for all students.” While they sound like night and day, they are related. Both seek to provide children with consistency, routine, schedule and boundaries and both focus on the supportive role of positive and consistent adult behavior.

Learn What You Live

Montessori’s philosophy embraces the idea that children learn what they live – they literally become people of their time and place by absorbing information (through their senses) about their environment. Think of it in relation to children born in one country but raised exclusively in another (as in international adoption). They learn to speak the language of those around them, not of where they were born.  They learn the customs, mannerisms and social behaviors of their environment. This is how all children learn and grow which is why it is important to give children the clearest, most positive aspects of our society.

The very manner in which children develop proves that the child has a need to belong to a community, this is a human tendency that Montessori discovered across space and time. Just think of all of the ways humans identify themselves; as fans of certain sports teams, as members of fraternal orders, as adherents of a specific faith (the possibilities are endless), by which particular individuals a person identified with from these groups (who we hold up and esteem). Ms. Luddick argues that the parent needs to be the inspiring leader.

The Parent As An Inspired Leader

What does it mean to be an inspired leader? My take away blends much of the two presentations together. First it means modeling Grace and Courtesy. Grace is how you carry yourself, what you believe about yourself and how you demonstrate that you value yourself. Courtesy is recognizing these value of others and treating them well (in Sanskrit this can be summed up with the word namaste). Children of a young age need consistent values across their spaces. For example: using please and thank you, using respectful communication, washing hands before meals and when coming indoors, taking shoes off at the door, communicating needs in an appropriate manner, table manners, and so on.

Nobility of Work

Nobility of Work

The Power of Language

Right in line with Grace and Courtesy is the power of language. Parents and adults must adhere to using language appropriately and that does not just mean grammatically correct language. It means choosing our words with purpose and positive intention, thinking before we speak and using our words to raise our children up, not to cut them down. Inspire your child to be strong and share inspired stories of human achievement (familial stories of perseverance). The positives of your family should be center stage and let the rest go.  Montessori education includes a heavy reliance on spoken language and telling true stories to children.  Children love to hear about what is and what was, and even more, they enjoy knowing how it relates to themselves as they figure out their place in our world.  What better way to engage these pre-literacy skills than with stories about them and their family?

This language extends to how we as adults perceive our worth (grace) and work. It means not whining as a parent, not complaining about work – instead instill the idea of the nobility of work. Work has value, it is important to our growth as individuals and our growth as a society. Freud posited that to feel complete, to feel successful, and individual needed love and work.  Children are absorbent minds and internalize what they hear from adults – even about work. Think about when you or other adults come home from work, are you proud of the work you have done? Have you done your best job at work? Do you share those values with your child or are you sharing a different idea of what work is and what work means?

Finally the power of language relates to the nature of our talking.  We need to communicate verbally but also non-verbally.  We need to make sure as speakers that we are confident, decisive, short and sweet when we are communicating. Most of all, do not process out loud (don’t think out every scenario in front of your child or over explain).  Remember that “no” is a perfectly acceptable response.  You are the adult, you owe no explanation, don’t fear your child.  Another speaker recently suggested that many kids who ask “why” are not actually looking for answers, they are looking for a way out of hearing “no”.  This little word allows our children to build resilience in the face of disappointment and later on in life, failure.  Life can be messy, the ability to carry on living when everything is not going your way is an important one. We need to nourish our children by giving them 100 percent of what they NEED and only 25 percent of what they WANT.

The Importance of Meaningful Work

Montessori termed the child’s engagement in her environment as “work” because she felt to call it anything else was demeaning.  Through use of their own hands, their own experiences with real life materials the child is construction his/her very own being (the child makes the man).  Work has all but disappeared from the child’s home life in many communities, routine chores, or small jobs have been replaced by scheduled extracurricular activities, homework, and electronic devices. In a world of distraction and “wants”, the needs of the child have been usurped by marketers.  In an effort to provide the very best for our children we have been keeping them from what they truly need – work and responsibility.  If we want to cultivate responsible adults and citizens we must give our children realistic responsibility at home and school.  Caring for themselves, and carrying for their environment are two large components of Practical Life in the classroom, and should be in the home environment too.  There is no reason that a child who can set a place at the table at school, fold linens at school, change their clothing at school, offer to serve tea at school – should not be able to do these things at home.  The only hinderance is the adult and the adult’s perception of the child. The child craves belonging, they want to find their place in the community and be an active participant, providing opportunities for the child to be

Washing the leaves of a plant.

Washing the leaves of a plant.

an active and positive member of the family household solidifies that child’s place, allows them to identify with the family and be a contributor, it relays the family’s values and the dignity of work, it teaches the child that the reward comes from the internal satisfaction of knowing you belong and that you contribute.

“Among the revelations the child has brought us, there is one of fundamental importance, the phenomenon of normalisation through work. Thousands and thousands of experiences among children of every race enable us to state that this phenomenon is the most certain datum verified in psychology or education. It is certain that the child’s attitude towards work represents a vital instinct; for without work his personality cannot organise itself and deviates from the normal lines of its construction. Man builds himself through working. Nothing can take the place of work, neither physical well-being nor affection, and, on the other hand, deviations cannot be corrected by either punishment or example. Man builds himself through working, working with his hands, but using his hands as the instruments of his ego, the organ of his individual mind and will, which shapes its own existence face to face with its environment. The child’s instinct confirms the fact that work is an inherent tendency in human nature; it is the characteristic instinct of the human race.” (Dr. Maria Montessori, ‘The Secret of Childhood’, Orient Longman Limited, 195)

Family Vision

All great leaders have a plan.  As the adult you need to have a vision for your family.  What do you want your home environment to be like? (inviting and engaging to children or a museum of things that can not be touched?) What are you unwilling to compromise on? (Use of technology, bedtimes) Do you use family meetings to discuss what is going on in the home, what is and isn’t working and brainstorm solutions? What are your family rituals? (birthday parties, dinner time, etc).

This vision must include your role as an authoritative adult.  Authoritative parents, Diana Baumrind explained, artfully combine qualities of responsiveness and demandingness. Responsiveness, or nurturance, refers to the warmth, love, understanding, and empathy that a parent offers a child and demandingness relates to expectations and boundaries, the limits and discipline that the adult offers in a fair and consistent way.

Luddick relays that these methods combine in a way to help nurture a child and adolescent who

  • knows his parents are there (trust)
  • looks up to his parents (respect)
  • follows their lead (obedience)
  • subscribes to their values (loyalty)

Positive Behavior Intervention Support How School Policy Can Help Parenting

Public schools come under scrutiny a great deal, every election there seems to be a new catch phrase program to help our children excel, however; these programs are often the result of policy makers and publishers who have financial interests as their main motivation.  PBIS is a step in the right direction as it is evidence based and strives to define and teach positive social expectations.  Although the method employed, which is a token system, is not something that Montessori schools embrace (this puts the emphasis on the external rewards of making the right choice instead of the internal reward), it is not without merit as a system employed by psychologists especially for use with children with special needs.

The system works by defining, teaching, reminding, celebrating, correcting student behavior in an ongoing loop (much like Montessori Grace and Courtesy practices).  A problem behavior is noted, the teacher writes a lesson, names the lesson, presents the lesson and positive behavior (sadly here PBIS diverges by also demonstrating the negative behavior – which is proven to be an ineffective way to communicate with children) and reward the behavior when witnessed.

Again, It is About the Adults

The most pressing send home from the entire PBIS lecture was that it takes time and changes in adult behaviors to generate the desired outcome in children’s behaviors.  Most child behavior results in “deficits” in skills – children have not been taught or do not know the appropriate ways to behave because they are no longer learning these things at home. The need for common language, common vision and common experience was put forth as a way to achieve these goals. It echoes Luddick’s own lecture and Montessori’s personal thoughts that the biggest hinderance to children’s development is adult prejudice and behavior.

Why is it important?

Why is it important that we create respectful, responsible individuals, or children who exhibit positive behaviors? Because positive behaviors are the prerequisites for academics and academic achievement.  The role of the adult providing procedures and routines creates structure for the child.  This structure (knowing what is expected) gives a sense of confidence and competence (the child can be successful), which leads to intrinsic motivation (that feeling of success is its own reward), which furthers independence/autonomy (confidence inspires more caring for the self) that builds to creativity and originality of thought (what else is there I am capable of), these lead to social responsibility (how else can I be productive) and overall spiritual awareness (I am connected to the human race).

Further Help

  • How to Raise An Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims (about the overparenting epidemic)
  • The Road to Character, David Brooks
  • Understanding the Human Being, Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro, MD
  • Parenting with Dignity, Mac Bledsoe
  • Northwest Family Services