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How to know When it’s Time to Shift from Babying to Building

From Our Newsletter: Talitha's Corner

When our child first comes into this world as a beautiful, little baby we want nothing more than to give them everything. They are so helpless and are looking to us every moment for feedback. As they grow and develop they get feedback from their environment, from others and from the world around them. Then, at some point during the toddler years, they start to practice independence. The beginning of this practice will vary depending on different factors. Sometimes it can find its expression during the “terrible twos“ and other times independence will surface during the “challenging threes.” The point that I am making is that these years can feel difficult precisely because the child is trying to become more

independent, self-reliant, and to feel… “big“. Part of Dr. Montessori’s genius was that she knew that children want to grow, learn, and accomplish new things and yet… they still need help. So begins the beautiful dance of when to let go and let them do it or when to step in and provide them a helping hand. This a balance that we as parents will be maintaining for a long time during our child’s development. Maria Montessori would succinctly phrase it,“The child’s inner need: ‘help me do it by myself!’“

This developmental support goal can be especially difficult for parents who have unconsciously slipped into the habit of babying or coddling their child. In other words, some parents end up doing too much for the child or excessively shielding the child from useful and necessary pain or adversity according to Taylor Bennett at Our job as parents is therefore to follow the child, observe their growth and setbacks, and to nurture them as they do it. Easily said, but not easily done. As a child begins the path of developing their independence and self-reliance around the age of one to two years our special work as parents and guides is to pull back just enough to give them the space to make mistakes, fall down, and at times, within reason, experience a measure of hurt or failure.This is the process that beneficially results in helping a child to strengthen the self-supporting belief that they are capable and competent human beings. As parents, this is all facilitated by talking skillfully to our children in order to provide an accurate and insightful description of what’s going on in the world (age appropriately of course). This can of course be especially challenging for parents who are traversing this tricky developmental stage for the first time, for second time parents who are splitting their efforts between caring for an infant and launching their budding independent toddler, for those parents who are habituated toward being a bit overprotective, or for those who just might not be fully aware of just how capable their child really is.

One of the reasons some parents tell me that they have chosen a school like Helping Hands Montessori is because they see the learning opportunity at this stage for their child to become more independent, do more things for themselves, and learn to choose their own work. This includes, but is not limited to: putting their toys or materials away, putting their socks and shoes on by themselves, getting their coat on using the “get your flip on” technique, and so much more. My hope is that this article will broaden your understanding in terms of what is happening during the school day so that you join us in this practice of letting go and letting your children do more, and of course, all by themselves. Around the age of three or so, a Montessori educated child can dress themselves, feed themselves, wipe themselves, and most definitely, ask for what they need. They are also beginning to understand their emotions as well as other people’s emotions. They are practicing grace and courtesy with phrasings like, “please”, “thank you”, “no thank you”, or “yes please”. These socially strengthening communications, just to name a few, are what we are modeling for them of every day, encouraging them to do, and high-fiving them for when they do it-- some days it feels like that’s what we’re primarily doing.

We understand that at home you’re going through the same things. If your child is three or older and you find yourself still feeding them, dressing them, wiping them, or picking up after them, then this is a gentle reminder and permission for you to step back and ask yourself, “how can I let my child be more involved in our family life?” The best way to start this process is by setting an expectation in the home. For example, when your child comes to school they have learned through repetition that there is an expectation that they are going to choose their work from the shelf and replace it back on the shelf when they’re finished. If a child forgets to do this and they instead move on to other work, it’s no big deal-- we simply remind them, have them pause what they’re doing, and replace their previous work. This is exactly what you want to be happening at home. For example, if your child forgets to put their toys away, which they will, you can give them a gentle reminder like, “before we move on to the next thing and eat dinner, we’re going to put the toys away. I can either help you, or you can do it by yourself. Which would you prefer?”

I’d like to finish with sharing a story about a four-year-old who recently used the potty then called for me when they were done. I went into the bathroom and asked what they needed. They said, “I need you to wipe me.” I responded with, “I can show you how to do it… and then you can wipe yourself.” The child replied, “No, I don’t do it, my mommy and daddy wipe me.” I calmly repeated, “I’ll show you how to do it and you can wipe yourself because… you’re a big kid!”. The child then excitedly exclaimed, “ Oh! I am big and I CAN do it!” I handed them some toilet paper and talked them through it as they wiped until they were clean. The child beamed at me as they were very, very proud of their accomplishment.

We are all in the pattern of doing the things that we keep doing for our child because we’re in the habit of doing it. Our work, is to let our child try something new even if they don’t get it right the first time. Maybe they will fail and maybe they will excel, but we’ll never know until we step back, and let our little learners make their courageous attempts at experiencing the feelings of independence.

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