I’m taking a short Montessori course for parents who are homeschooling their elementary kids and sharing what I learn here in the blog. This is the tenth article in the series. You can start from the beginning here.
Having majored in Psychology in college, I tend to be skeptical about parenting advice — not because I think I know better, but because I’ve had to read the writings of so many people who think they know better. Child psychologist X says this; child psychologist Y says that. And let’s not even get started on the books and articles: millions of them out there, philosophies du jour spouted by “gurus” and “visionaries”. It’s a whole industry, one that capitalizes on our basic desire to do right by our kids.
(Even Montessori, which is a philosophy I obviously mostly agree with, can become a tool for exploitation: people slap “Montessori” on the name of an otherwise commonplace thing — like a wooden tray — and it instantly becomes ridiculously more expensive!)
That’s why I’m wary of following advice wholesale and tend instead to cherry-pick. (Never saying “no” to kids, for example, is something that I don’t really subscribe to.) I rely on common sense a lot, as well as my own instincts on what may or may not work for my son based on what I know of him and his personality, and if something isn’t working, I try to course-correct. I don’t always get it right but then…neither does anyone else.
Having said all that, there’s one thing from the Montessori module on “Nurturing Positive Interactions at Home” that really leapt out at me.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”
This quote by Peggy O’Mara strikes deep and true, not least because it’s difficult to be mindful of all the time and yet absolutely vital.
How often have we heard that a lie, repeated often enough, will eventually seem like the truth, especially to those who don’t know better?
How much more for a child, whose mind and sense of self is still developing?
And yet this — being careful with the words we use — can sometimes be really challenging to implement. Parents are humans, too: we get tired, we get angry, we get fed up. We also can’t control the words that others in the family use when talking to our kids.
So, ideally, when we talk to our kids, we should ask ourselves: is this — what I’m saying — the inner voice I would like my child to have?
At the same time, we have to recognize that we probably will fail at this sometimes and so…how do we make up for it when we do? We have to build in mechanisms for compensating our hopefully occasional failures.
I have to admit there have been many times that I’ve said things to my son, out of anger, that I later regretted. And I try as much as possible to talk to him about it afterwards: to admit that I was wrong, pointing out exactly where I was wrong and how I should have done it, and that I will try to do better next time. I think it never hurts to admit mistakes and I hope that my example will even encourage him, in the future, to think about his own actions, admit his own mistakes, and identify where and how he could do better. I also try to fill him with so much love and affirmation, in general, so that occasional harsh words will not make as deep a dent as they otherwise would. I guess I think of it as like a bank balance: I try to make so many positive deposits that the occasional withdrawals won’t bankrupt us.
Other communication tips from the module
- When talking to our kids, we should try to:
- Increase positive statements and questions
- Minimize directives and negative statements
- When/then is better than if/then. For example:
- If/then: If you don’t pack away, you can’t go outside.
- When/then: When you have packed away, then you can go outside.
- Name and validate emotions. Don’t try to fix everything, or deny what your child is feeling, or get angry at what they are feeling. Allow them to feel…without hurting others.
- Give attention to the behavior you like, not the behavior you don’t.
A few ways we can build strong connections with our kids
- Play with your kids and let them take the lead during play. (I just had a hide-the-red-ball game with my son and it was actually fun!)
- Let your children help you; involve them in family life.