Children are born with natural urges that guide them as they gain control of their muscles and senses with little effort. Especially in the first three years of life, they are unconscious learners and tirelessly work toward independence. Given a safe and well-prepared environment, an infant will begin working to hold her head up, roll over, sit, crawl, walk and talk; no one has to teach her. It is this prepared environment that will foster her growth.
Meanwhile, as this innate development takes place, the child’s need to practice these skills often involves repetition— which may be misunderstood by her parent or caregiver. For example: the child may cry when she is confined to a stroller; she may simply want to explore the ground beneath her and practice her walking. Perhaps it’s time to leave and she wants to put on her own shoes— and take them off and put them on again; it may take extra time and patience, but she is likely focused on her need to master dressing herself. Or she may have an urge to turn the light switch on and off repeatedly; how else will she understand how lights work? 😉
Beginning in infancy, the child has a strong desire to move about, explore and touch everything in her environment. Her hands are her main teacher. All she is learning and discovering connects directly to her brain and creates prolific neural connections. For this reason, Dr. Montessori stressed the need for the keen observation of the child as a means for understanding her actions. Once the child’s developmental needs are understood, it will be easier to create an enriching environment and approach with her, thereby eliminating much of the emotional tugging, pulling and misunderstandings.
Think of these struggles as being caught in a riptide — ‘an area of sea where two different currents meet or where the water is extremely deep…making the water very rough and dangerous.’* In the moment, a child’s emotions and reactions can seem as forceful as a riptide. The child is following her inner guide, which behaves like a strong flowing current. You may find yourself swimming into her ‘channel’ and suddenly caught up in its force. Her motivation is not to pull you in with her. She wants very much to ‘go it alone’ and master the task before her. Once she does, she will lose interest and take another step toward independence— her ultimate goal.
The best advice for getting caught in a riptide is to remain calm, conserve energy and think clearly. Once out of the current, swim parallel to the shore (the child) until you can get back safely. Sounds like good advice to me!
What a great reminder to remain patient and calm as this often exasperating “learning and exploring ” takes place! Allowing extra time before leaving the house makes sense.