One of the ways that mothering and Montessori has changed me is that I’m learning to try to see the world from the perspective of the child better. I attempted to do this this evening at 9:00 as I stood in the Walmart check-out line behind a chubby I’m-guessing-2-year-old. While her mother and grandmother unloaded the cubes of Mountain Dew, bags of cookies, and cat litter, the very tired-looking little girl decided to climb from the front of the cart into the back.
The mother said, “stop.” She didn’t, she was already over. The mother said, “bad girl.” My heart started aching. The little girl gingerly picked up a box of band-aids. The mother grabbed it from her and said, “no!” The girl said nothing – she had a pacifier in her mouth.
The girl reached over to an avocado I had put up on the belt and the mother slapped her hand and said, “stop touching everything.” I wanted to hand the fruit to the girl and smile and say, “Here! You can touch it! It’s called an avocado.” But I was too late and they were leaving.
Now, I’m far from being a perfect parent. (Not that there’s any such thing.) In my heart, I don’t judge other parents, because I think 99.9% of us mean well, and we all get tired and have bad days. But I think that the girl I watched this evening was getting a raw deal. Here’s a summary of what I was thinking:
- She probably should have been at home, tucked into bed. Our children’s need for sleep can almost always be met if we, as parents, take better control of our schedules and stay organized.
- There’s no such thing as a “bad” toddler – just bad parenting skills. (Was the mother raised hearing phrases like this?) The toddler’s very nascent sense of self-esteem is being crushed with this word.
- Toddlers have a nearly-insatiable and unconscious desire to improve their gross motor skills and use all of their senses, so long as they are awake. This includes wanting to climb instead of sit, and wanting to touch and lift and smell and taste. When we say “hold still” and “don’t touch” we are stopping children from following their instincts and making progress in their development. As much and whenever possible, try offering “touch this!” “smell this!” “taste this!” “listen to this!” “look at this!”
- Do you know how many items are in a Walmart store? The sights and sounds and decisions to be made are beyond over-stimulating for an adult, let alone a toddler. Yes, I bring my 4 children in with me when I have to – but only when necessary and always with regret and copious compassion. (And time to un-wind afterwards.)
- A pacifier can have it’s place in early infancy when the need to suck cannot be adequately met through feedings or nursing. I have used them during car-rides with an infant, or between small feedings with an infant who has reflux, for example. But realize that the pacifier in a toddler is preventing her from using her exquisite sense of taste AND frustrating her need to learn to communicate verbally.
If I was being secretly video-taped throughout my mothering career, you would find plenty of examples of mistakes I’ve made over the years – so, again, I don’t write this post to criticize the mother. I just want to learn to consider the child’s perspective in all of the short time we have with her.
Montessori wrote that it was purely natural for children to rebel when their basic instincts are not being permitted. I think of it like this: children seem to have a bottomless space in their hearts, a never-ending source of wonder and perseverance, of love and hope. But each time we stop them from doing what their nature drives them to do, a little drop of anger goes into that pit. If the resentment builds, then when the circumstances call for it, the child spews it all out in the form of a shout or a tantrum.
On the other hand, each time we love the child and listen to her with a smile on our face, fill her with nutritious meals, ensure she gets a good night’s sleep, and put wonderfully interesting things (like avocados) in her environment for her, those drops of anger dissipate, and healing progress (what Montessori called “normalization”) takes place.
Walmart is not an environment that is very conducive to childhood progress.