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Encouraging Kindness & Modeling Respect

Encouraging Kindness & Modeling Respect
Rachel Weaner

Elizabeth Palazzi, Lead Toddler Guide

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future … Let us treat them with all the kindness which we would wish to help to develop in them.” — Maria Montessori

Children learn skills by watching adults model those very skills, not solely by listening to what we say. Therefore, showing respect to our children is essential for their upbringing. Through observation, our children can learn the types of behavior they should both demonstrate towards and expect from others in the future (i.e. friends, partners, co-workers). In order to foster this type of respect, Montessori Toddler Guides incorporate various techniques daily. Furthermore, although toddlers’ wants and desires may sometimes seem unimportant or rudimentary to an adult, parents can also encourage and model appropriate ways to converse and problem-solve at home with the goal of honoring the individual child.  

Ways Montessori Teachers Show Respect in Our Classrooms

1. Using appropriate language with regards to shared work.  

In a Montessori class, each child focuses on one work, or material, at a time to allow for mastery. Younger students with a curious onlooker who desires to use the same work are encouraged to use language such as: “This is my work. Please find other work.” If necessary, teachers redirect other children by first asking them to express their desires and then inviting them to choose another work that is similar in activity or interest: “That work looks like fun. I know you want to use it, but right now, it’s being used. You may watch quietly or choose another work.”   

2. Sharing feelings during morning circle.

As children enter a Toddler classroom in the morning, they are asked, “How are you feeling this morning?” This introduces students to different feelings associated with language development (i.e. happy, sad, tired, excited, mad, angry). Teachers also ask the children why they feel that way. Even at a young age, children can learn what these feelings look and feel like. Additionally, this creates a positive bond between the children and their teacher.  

3. Encouraging independence by giving our children opportunities to succeed. 

Toddler Montessori teachers create and present work that is appropriate for the children’s developmental level, place all work at their height, ensure necessary pieces of work are on the tray, and provide consistent expectations throughout the day. This helps to promote concentration, competence, and confidence, all of which leads to independence.

“The greatest sign of success for a teacher ... is to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”—Maria Montessori

4. Trusting the child.

Once children have mastered their work, they will naturally choose more challenging work. In respecting their developmental level, we show trust that toddlers will learn new skills, but only when they are developmentally ready to do so. Since placing pressure on them could lead to friction, teachers avoid rushing the child into a new skill. Children will develop through their own process.

Ways Caretakers Can Show Respect At Home

“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.”—Maria Montessori

1. Respecting their own feelings, which may be different from yours.  

a. Model the proper way to express feelings with appropriate vocabulary: “I’m sad” or “I’m mad” helps start a conversation of solving the problem at hand with words.

b. When a child falls, avoid saying “It’s OK”. Teach them to trust their own instincts or feelings. It feels confusing when their body tells them, “This does not feel right,” but the adult they trust tells them another.

c. Within limits, allow children the right to make their own decisions about dressing. Instead of forcing a child to wear a jacket, say, “Let’s go outside and feel the weather.”

d. At mealtime, if a child is resistant to eating a favorite food, avoid saying “You have to eat asparagus, you love it!” A better alternative could be “I can see you are not in the mood for one of your favorite foods today.”

e. Respect a child’s particular desire that may seem insignificant to you. “I know you want a blue cup because that is your favorite color. I wish we had a clean blue cup for you. Next time we have a clean blue cup, I will keep it aside for you.”

2. Trusting the child’s ability to be independent.

a. Support your child’s new skill acquisition by building in time during the day for your child to learn new skills, like putting on socks, shoes, clothes, tying shoes, and zippering jackets. A rainy or snowy day or even a quiet Saturday morning provide good opportunities for practicing!

b. It is also important to keep toys developmentally appropriate for each child as well as organized. Creating an organized space allow children to use the toy or material but then also return them to a natural place.

3. Allowing children to learn how to make decisions through logical consequences.

a. “Carry it or wear it,” when deciding jacket options depending on the weather.

b. “You may put your shoes on in the house or in the car.”

c. “You may speak with a quiet voice in the kitchen or with a louder voice outside.”

4. Asking your child questions.

a. “Do you mind if I have some of your fries?” and respect the answer the child gives you, which can be quite challenging.

b. "Excuse me for a moment, what did you say you’d like for lunch today?”

c. “I’m sorry to bother you while you are playing legos, but it is time for us to pick up your sister from practice.”

Children will follow the lead of the adults around them. Modeling a respectful tone of voice and choice of words shows our children we respect them. Our children also learn the expectations we have for their behavior while interacting with others in the world. When we trust their growing independence, we encourage their increasing confidence as equally important individuals in our society.

“The greatest development is achieved during the first years of life, and therefore it is then that the greatest care should be taken. If this is done, then the child does not become a burden; he will reveal himself as the greatest marvel of nature.” — Maria Montessori