In a Montessori classroom, you will not hear a commanding voice in front of the room, expecting attention. Teachers (known as Guides) instead observe intently, communicate with students one-on-one, and respect a child’s space before intervening with any conversation or ask. The relationship between teacher and student is a partnership, which means when it’s time for a student to listen — be it to a question or instructions — respect for one another is already intact.
But this relationship is developed with trust, consistency, and patience over time. A student must come to a place in his own time where he expects respect from his Guide, is grateful for his school and eager to engage. When a child listens well, it’s because a strong partnership has developed between adult and child, and the adult is keenly aware of the child’s needs, ability, and habits. How can you get to a better place of listening well at home? It begins with awareness of the child and awareness of you.
Awareness of the Developmental Process
“In order to obey, one must not only wish but also be able to obey. To carry out an order, one must already possess some degree of maturity and a measure of the special skill it may need. Hence, we first must know whether the child’s obedience is practically possible at the level of development the child has reached. If the child is not yet master of his actions, if he cannot obey even his own will, so much the less can he obey the will of someone else.” — Maria Montessori
In order to expect diligence from a child, we must first understand the developmental process. So, what’s going inside your child’s body that either encourages listening or dissuades it? An infant’s hearing is fully developed at birth, which means your baby is already listening intently to the adults around him. He hears his name and understands simple requests. By age one, a child can read social cues well and deeply correlates words with emotions — when adults are angry, for example, our voices are loud, or, when we are happy, our voices are gentle and high-pitched. This development of receptive language is growing exponentially as the child begins to talk.
As an infant, disobedience and obedience are one in the same. Even though he understands and can retain words, it takes time before his own expressive language can respond to requests. But, with age comes the willpower to listen if a child so chooses, and, by the time your child enters Children’s House (ages 3 to 6), he should come to a developmental stage in which he listens with enthusiasm, no matter the request, and this is called “Obedience with Joy.”
Obedience with Joy
Obedience with joy means that a child has, both developmentally and by choice, achieved the highest level of will in which he gets pleasure from obeying an adult without question. He listens with readiness, and it pleases him to please the adult.
Once this final stage of development has been achieved, then comes the time to build a partnership with your child in which trust and respect exist along with the eagerness to please.
“Do not call a child, if there is any way out of it, when he is deeply immersed in play or work. Bear in mind that concentration is a desirable quality in a child and that this presents a problem in causing him to be very responsive to incessant commands.” — Maria Montessori
Once a child’s willpower has been developed, the adult should not exploit this ability. Rather, the adult must observe and ask herself if intervention is either helpful or detrimental to the child’s work.
If you need to leave the house in five minutes, for example, ensure that you connect with your child before directing him to stop what he is doing and walk out the door. Prepare before you must instruct and communicate fully with your child any needs before insisting upon them.
Avoid authoritative language and behavior and include him in your decisions. The child will be more willing to engage and listen when he trusts that his needs are being met as well as your own. Only then will your partnership continue to grow.
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