Learning to Take the Fear Out of Parenting

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about fear and anxiety and how big a role it sometimes plays in parenting. Whether navigating the world of a new baby, the anxiety of school admissions, or the fear of what the next stage will bring, it feels like fear is on the top of many parents’ minds.  With all of that fear around, I decided to add a parenting commandment to my philosophy:

“I will not parent from a place of fear.”

This, of course, is a billion times easier said than done. I am not saying that I will never have fear, but rather I will not let my fears dictate my parenting decisions. Instead of allowing my anxiety of the “what-if”s and “might-be”s to rule the day, I choose to ground my parenting in things I believe. I believe in a Montessori approach to parenting which supports the idea that my children are capable beings. I believe that it is my job as the parent to set the limits, but within those limits I cannot micromanage or unnecessarily help my children. This does not come naturally to me. As a parent, I am a verbal helper. I tend to give unsolicited advice, prompting, and caution that are almost always rooted in my fears. Fear of injury. Fear of judgement. Fear of the unknown. My educator brain knows this is not helpful and even potentially harmful in the long run, but my parenting brain doesn’t always listen.

I read an interview on NPR with Hanna Rossin a writer covering overprotected children and what really struck me is that she pointed out the difference between risk and danger. As a parent we want to protect our children from danger, but can’t and shouldn’t want to protect them from risk. The problem I have as a parent is that I confuse the two or overreact to the idea, the mere idea, of risk. I am convinced, despite logic, that my son is always on the verge of killing himself by doing something “unsafe”. This is the irrationality that sometimes comes with parenting. But the truth remains, risk or even the perception of risk is important.

My daughter has become a bit of climber lately. She climbs the monkey bars, the tops of all the play structures, and trees. She goes as high as she can. Does this fill me with fear? Yes. Have I learned to be quiet about it? Yes. It actually helped me that she did fall one time. She fell from the monkey bars when they were wet and belly flopped onto the mulch. Bruises, mulch in her mouth, and a scream cry all included. It was awful to watch and no fun to console, but the next day she got back on the monkey bars. She discovered a little bit about her limits and the risk of a slick monkey bar. Every time I consciously decide to shut up I know I am giving her room to assess the situation and evaluate the risk on her own terms. You see, I don’t want my daughter to listen to my voice saying, “Be careful.” I want her to listen to her own voice, the one that lives in her gut and is called “conscience” and “instinct”. If she can pull back when she has gone too high now then I know that voice will grow a little and hopefully show up when confronted with larger risks with bigger consequences in adolescence.

For me to stick with my new commandment I need to focus on two things:

1. Shutting up and pausing before letting my own fears take over a decision for my children.

2. Asking myself is this risky or dangerous, before intervening..

If I do both of these things regularly I know that my fear will go down and my children’s ability to manage their own risks will go up.

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Risk versus Danger

4 Reasons to Love Montessori

This post is brought to you by another blog that got my mental wheels turning. The author was comparing costs of preschools for his son and contemplating sending said son to a private Montessori school. The author then posed the question, “Is Montessori worth it?”  The real question he was asking was, “Is private school worth it?” because the sad fact is that in most parts of the country Montessori = private school. He then goes on to conclude that it is not, in fact, fiscally reasonable or responsible. I agree with the premise and conclusion and also commend the author on dispelling the overstated benefits of private education…

BUT the question in the beginning of the post kept nagging at me, “Is Montessori worth it?” In Houston, we are lucky, and potentially overwhelmed, with all of the school options for our children. As a parent, you have private, public, charter, and magnet schools to explore, apply, and choose from. As a parent of two children in a public Montessori magnet school, I wanted to share 4 of the many reasons that I believe that Montessori is worth it (and almost none of them are academic). These reasons are based on my experience as a Montessori parent and teacher’s assistant:

1. No one is afraid to ask for help: One of the first things I noticed when working with the 7th graders this year is how willing everyone was to ask for help. Whether they were advanced or struggling to stay on grade level there was no stigma to asking for clarification or assistance from peers or teachers. This was very different from my experience working at traditional schools where it was like pulling teeth to get students, particularly the “smart” ones, to reach out for help!

2. Peace Education: Just imagine a classroom where two 5th grade boys were having an issue with one another that was leading to a lot of tension and could have easily spilled over into an argument or fight. Now imagine that before that tension got to the boiling point, one of the boys brought up the tension to the class and enlisted the help of a peer mediator or “peacemaker” to solve the tension problem. Then the three students spent, maybe, 10 minutes working it out and everyone was able to move on. I got to witness that bit of awesomeness last week while helping in an Upper Elementary classroom. And you know what was even more awesome, that was normal! That is what you do when you have a conflict. You work it out. You don’t tattle. You don’t need to involve adults to solve your issues. Talk about a life-long, marketable skill.

3. Approaches to Math and Literacy: I am confident that my children would learn and be academically successful in just about any school, but the Montessori approaches to math and literacy continue to impress me in both my children at the Children’s House level and with my students in the Adolescent program. The emphasis on the “why” in math no doubt would have changed my own relationship with the subject altogether.

4. Encouragement of Non-Academic Work: I get obsessed when I see a Montessori classroom humming along during a work period. Students might be hunched over on rug or desk plugging away at an academic pursuit and some might be sewing a pillow or knitting and someone is always engrossed in a book. Love it. Kids sitting in rows, listening to a teacher at the front of the room does not bring up the same emotions. I mean, c’mon, the level of patience and concentration it takes for a ten year old to hand stitch a pillow closed trumps a test prep worksheet any day. Also, if you have never seen an often “too-cool-for-school” thirteen year old boy tenderly pick up a hen and administer eye drops to her infected eye you should, it is quite epic.

These are just a few of the many, many reasons to love Montessori. To love public Montessori. Don’t you want to promote, expand, and protect it? Me too. You can do this by supporting wonderful organizations that are fighting to expand public Montessori access like Friends of Montessori and Montessori for All. You can also register for the Public Montessori Educators of Texas Conference taking place here in Houston on March 7-8 and hear me and a bunch of other awesome, passionate people present.

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Parenting: Staying on Offense

Last week I did the most Montessori thing I have ever done, but the actual Montessori-ness of it is secondary to the reason why I did it. You see, my children had to stay home from school for the second time in four days due to an “inclement weather” day. In Houston this just means:  “Dear God…we have NO IDEA how to handle rain that is slightly frozen.”

The first unexpected school closure was on a Friday, so we treated it like a lazy weekend day. We watched Batman cartoons, baked banana bread, stayed in PJs for a great deal of the day. It was great, but by the end of the day the kids were a little stir crazy and bickering about everything. When school was canceled the following Tuesday I knew we could not have a repeat performance for various reasons namely that a lazy day sandwiched between two school days would really mess up my kids’ routine. I knew I had to stay on the offense. I had to plan something concrete and productive to do for a few hours to give some structure to their day.

Since both children attend Montessori school it made the most sense to me to build in a morning work period. I created a very simple work plan that is not very authentic but I knew would be enough work for us to make it to lunch. We don’t have many authentic materials so we had to improvise!

I made this "work plan" on a half sheet of paper. I wanted to include all of the subjects she normally does plus some other things. Her practical life activity was doing her laundry and her reading was to read aloud a chapter of a book of her choice.

I made this “work plan” on a half sheet of paper. I wanted to include all of the subjects she normally does plus some other things. Her practical life activity was doing her laundry and her reading was to read aloud a chapter of a book of her choice.

My daughter, in her interesting free choice outfit, doing the one piece of Montessori work we actually have! It is an addition board.

My daughter, in her interesting free choice outfit, doing the one piece of Montessori work we actually have! It is an addition board.

This is my son doing his culture work. He is just trying to recreate the states puzzle.

This is my son doing his culture work. He is just trying to recreate the states puzzle.

So what was the result? The kids were much less “crazy” and grouchy than they were on the previous Friday. They didn’t ask me two hundred times “what are we doing next?”

While this plan worked for us and I will definitely being doing it again, the same principle can be applied to whatever you can dream up and feel confident about. Maybe it is a craft morning or a cooking morning or a mini-Olympics morning! I just know that when I play offense my day AND the kids’ day goes so much smoother.

Montessori Ideas: Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

My husband and I knew from the time my daughter was about 2 years old that Montessori was the right educational choice for our family but it took almost two additional years to realize that Montessori was the right parenting choice for our family as well. In that time our two children moved quickly beyond anything resembling babyhood, so when I began to read, research, and put into practice practical Montessori strategies all of the sections on babies were just a little too late. The silver lining of sorts is that now that I am in my early thirties I am experiencing a baby boom through friends! This post is dedicated to all of my friends with babies.

I am still very inspired by the Montessori baby literature even if it doesn’t apply to me directly anymore. If I could go back in time to the birth of my oldest I would implement the following Montessori inspired ideas. *One caveat: I am not a Montessori purist, I believe in the philosophy, but like to apply it practically. If you are looking for a purist take on Montessori from infant-hood I highly recommend Kylie at How we Montessori*

  • The mobile: We did have a mobile when my daughter was born, it was brightly colored and played a pretty annoying song. I wish I had known enough about child development to find more appropriate or make my own mobile(s) like Sara at Feeding the Soil. I love how it gives the baby something to focus on which is serious hard work for an infant!
  • A “movement space”: Even when my daughter was born I understood the importance of “tummy time” and having space for the baby to move around and test out her growing strength. What I like about the Montessori approach to this same idea is that you dedicate a space in the child’s bedroom or family room for this practice. The movement space includes a mat, an acrylic mirror, and sometimes things to pull up on in front of the mirror. If you have ever been around a baby you know they love looking at the baby in the mirror. Tummy time was often an unpleasant experience for my oldest, but I think if we had put a mirror next to her she might have actually enjoyed it. Some examples of this movement space can be found at Montessori Moms.
  • From bottle (or breast) to cup: Down with the sippy cup! :)  Montessori advocates to cut out the middle man. Young children are capable of drinking from a cup so why don’t we let them? The cup is actually what made me fall in love with Montessori when I saw my then 18 month old drinking water from a cup.  The sippy cup is an unnecessary step in the weaning process. If you have ever witnessed a child move from sippy cup to regular cup you know they tip the cup too far and make lots of messes, which is why you use the sippy cup in the first place to avoid the spills so why prolong the inevitable learning curve. I also love how the cup forces the child to sit down (or at least stop running) to take a drink which is a healthy habit we pushed to instill later so why not break the habit before it becomes one. We still fell a little into the sippy cup trap even after seeing my daughter’s capabilities, remember how we were slow to connect school and home, but I do think Montessori schooling helped push us to move beyond the sippy cup earlier as both kids were fully in cups by 2 years old.
  • One last thing I would change: I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself.  Although every decision felt like the most important thing in the world, six years later it seems silly that I lost sleep over it.

Every day is a new day to try again for both child and parent.

Good luck!

Montessori Ideas: Preparing the New Home Environment

My family and I moved into our new-to-us home a few months ago. Although I don’ t miss our old starter home, I do miss that I had already done all the front work to make the home accessible to my kids. With this new house, there were many things I did right away to prepare the environment and there are a few things left to do to make all of our lives easier.

Completed Preparations:

-In the bedrooms, both kids have all of their clothes accessible to them in easy to manage baskets or hung as outfits. This means that they can get dressed without any adult intervention.

-In the kitchen the children can access the dish and silverware in low drawers, grab a snack or pack a lunch from either the pantry or fridge, or grab a glass of water when needed. This is a similar set-up to our old house (seen here) but the kids now only use the family porcelain dinnerware and glass cups.

-In the bathroom, the sink is much higher than our previous home, but a simple stool does the job and we continue to use our kid shower.

-In the den, we moved our backpack station to make sure that before and after school run smoothly.

What still needs to be done:

-In the bedroom and bathroom the light switches are too high! My son cannot turn his lights on and off or use the restroom at night without help turning on the light. This has caused frustration in my son and annoyance for me! So our solution, until my son grows more, is to install a light switch extender like this one from Montessori Services. It even comes in a two-pack so I think I will only need one set.

A simple tool that can make a big difference to my son's confidence.

A simple tool that can make a big difference to my son’s confidence.

-In the bathroom, the kids have a hard time turning the shower on and getting to a reasonable temperature as the 1940′s fixture and plumbing is fickle. We will solve this one by adding it to the list of home repairs that we are tackling this spring.

Overall, the house is a great space for all for us and I look forward to tackling these minor problems in the future.