Our kids are our priority. We always have the best intentions, whether it’s raising them to be happy and confident, or teaching them to stand on their own two feet. But because we care for them, sometimes our instinct to nurture becomes an instinct of overprotectiveness. In our desire to protect them, we fail to realize that sometimes we have to let them go to give them room to grow.
Children need to learn how to do things for themselves and learn important life skills that will help them navigate the real world better when they grow older. Where can you start? You can try the Montessori way, a popular education approach that makes use of “Practical Life Work” to help children thrive within a family, culture, society, and life. In a Montessori setup, you’ll often hear teachers talk to children using words that encourage them to be self-reliant and motivate them to be critical thinkers.
In an article for Motherly, Christina Clemer shared phrases that Montessori teachers use to help bolster a child’s independence. Here are five you may find useful to apply in your home.
1. “I saw you working hard.” We’ve written about the growth mindset before — how children who become friends with failure experience more success than those who succeed early in life. The Montessori way focuses on the hard work and process rather than the output. Don’t just say “good work!” or gush, “Your drawing is so nice!” Compliment how your child concentrated on finishing his drawing, or his careful penmanship. It will help develop a growth mindset and make him realize that he can succeed through his efforts.
Other ways to praise the process: Say, “I noticed that you were kind to your sister when you shared your baon with her,” instead of just saying “You’re a good girl.” This tells your child that you are seeing her good behavior without placing judgments.
2. “What do you think about your work?” In Montessori, the teachers give lessons, but they are only there to help and guide your child. In the end, your child learns to teach and discover things on his own. If your child asks, “Do you like my painting?” it means that he is looking for your approval. Instead of just praising the artwork, ask him about it — why did he choose those colors? Does he think using watercolor is better than crayons? Help him analyze his own work and affirm his skills, rather than just telling him how good he is.
3. “Where could you look for that?” If your child tips a bowl of snacks on the floor, it’s easy to get frustrated and clean the mess up yourself — it’s faster and more efficient if you do it. But doing so is a missed opportunity to give your child a chance to learn independence, another important tenet of Montessori education. If your child asks how to do something, or where he can find something, don’t just offer a ready solution. Ask, “Which person could you ask for help?” or “Where do you think you should start looking?” or “How do you think you can accomplish that?”
4. “Don’t disturb him, he’s concentrating.” Montessori classes dedicate hours of uninterrupted work time to develop children’s deep concentration. It’s important for them not to be disturbed, so they learn to focus on finishing one thing before moving on to learn something else. If you see your child focused on building blocks or concentrating on modeling clay, walk by calmly and make a mental note of his laser focus, which you can tell him later on. Breaking his concentration just to praise his hard work may distract him and lets him focus on the compliment instead of the actual output.
5. “Follow the child.” As your child grows, there are certain developmental milestones that he needs to hit, and it can be a cause for concern if you notice that your child is not performing as others do. But Montessori teachers remind us to follow your child and to trust him — every child is unique, and he’ll be able to accomplish things at his own time and pace. In fact, he doesn’t care about the milestones he’s supposed to reach — that’s you putting unnecessary pressure on him.
Affirm their personalities and not their skills — watch out for the things he likes doing and take your cue from there. If he finds it hard to love reading but loves drawing, try giving him picture books. Allow him to pick books that he likes, instead of forcing what you think is good for him. Having faith in your child enables you to understand him better, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t give him the help when he needs it. Be patient and let him lead, but also make him feel that you are there to support him when he stumbles.
The Montessori is an excellent approach if you want your children to be self-reliant because it gives him the chance to do things, thinks for themselves, makes mistakes and learns from them. But let us not forget our role as parents —yes, we can guide, teach, and give them enough room to become independent, but we still need to keep the connection and make them feel that we are there for them every step of the way.