“Respect all reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.” — Maria Montessori

It’s a beautiful Saturday. Your son has spent the afternoon playing happily at his friend’s house and you’ve just arrived to collect him. From the look on your son’s face, you know he is not going to part ways easily. Bracing for the worst, and already beginning to feel the embarrassment, you announce “It’s time to go home.” His face falls and the mighty meltdown follows. We’ve all been there.

Naturally, there will be times when a young child’s inability to fully express himself can lead to moments of intense emotion and frustration. But more likely, he is laser-focused on some activity— climbing the stairs multiple times, lining toys in a row across the floor, removing everything from a drawer, spilling water while trying to fill a cup at the sink, or playing happily with a friend— and it becomes necessary to ask him to stop. Although not always obvious to the adult, these repetitive activities have a purpose and are important to the child and to his development. He becomes immersed in an activity and, unless he is prepared for the change, he may not cheerfully accept switching gears. Any unexpected change in his environment or an interruption can be met with resistance and trigger a tantrum.

With our busy lives, and despite our best intentions, we often misread the root of the young child’s emotional release. Whenever possible, the adult should give the child a respectful warning before a change in routine or a transition. For example, “We are going to leave Riley’s house in five minutes.” Next, offer him a choice to help him feel he has some control over the situation. “Would you like to help me set the timer on my watch or my phone?” Not only will he feel a bit more in control, he just may leave waving instead of flailing. 😉

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