The preschool years are filled with growth, excitement, and let’s not forget…tantrums! A Montessori philosophy to combat negative behaviors can help you get through those less than perfect moments and get your child back on track!
Negative Behaviors and Child Development
Did you know that negative behaviors are a NORMAL part of child development? Negative behaviors can be a first sign of a basic need that must be met such as fatigue hunger, illness, fear, frustration, and even boredom. A preschool-aged child is still developing his or her ability to control and regulate emotions. When a preschooler feels something, they act FIRST, think LATER (I think we still know some adults who do this, too). Preschoolers who feel overwhelmed may exhibit negative behaviors because it’s the only way they know how to express their frustration…until new behaviors can be learned. All preschoolers have tantrums and resist their parents at least some of the time, but it’s HOW parents and children handle them TOGETHER that can make the difference and help children through emotional development. Persistent challenging behaviors that are not corrected can be a strong predictor for future problems such as delinquency, aggression, rejection from their peers, and even decreased academic performance. Attending preschool is a great way to enhance reading and math skills, but what about social skills?
*When to consult the pros: When your child’s tantrums become more serious than what is typical, if your child has been kicked out of school for their behaviors, or their behaviors significantly disrupt family life, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician for more resources and a helping hand.
How to Combat Negative Behaviors
First and foremost, combatting negative behaviors starts with YOU. The first way to combat negative behaviors is to know your child’s signs that demonstrate their basic needs and prepare to meet them before a problem arises. As Maria Montessori stated again and again, a consistent and predictable daily routine can be the best tool in a parent’s toolbox. A stable routine provides structure and allows the child to have confidence in each step that takes place throughout the day; not to mention, it has a built in system to fulfill basic needs such as hunger and sleep.
Secondly, parents play a vital role in teaching coping skills, particularly as children watch parents use their own strategies to cope with negative emotions and situations. It’s important for parents to be the role model for their child during their own frustrating circumstances, which can be difficult in its own right. Create a Montessori philosophy in your home where each new experience can be an opportunity for learning and exploration. Create a Montessori-inspired lesson to teach your children rules and acceptable behaviors in the home and provide opportunities for your child to control their emotions….then show it yourself!
For example, at Heritage, we utilize Montessori principles to prevent negative behaviors throughout the school day. We provide students with a predictable daily routine, have standardized eating and sleep schedules, adopt consistent strategies during transition times, and incorporate social skill-building and expectations into our curriculum to facilitate the development of the whole person. Our student/teacher ratios allow for an intimate learning experience where negative behaviors can be corrected as they happen to allow for immediate learning and changes of behavior.
Time Out or the Time to Reflect?
Emotions can run high for everyone during a tantrum or other negative behavior. It’s important for you to stay calm so your child can mimic your behavior right in the moment. Aggression is a sign that emotions are out of control, so before any learning or teaching can begin, the child (and sometimes the parent) needs to calm down. A time out can be an effective way to facilitate learning and emotional regulation if used appropriately. As a rule of thumb, a time out should be one minute for each year of the child’s age (2 minutes for a two year old, as an example). However, these must be two CALM minutes where the child is following instructions and NOT crying; the timer restarts if the child is crying, screaming, or seeking negative attention. First, guide the child to a place in the room that has no distractions or toys. Use words and gestures to communicate your position. For example, if a child has their hands up in the air, calmly put their hands by their sides. Nonverbal communication can be just as important as verbal in these situations. Utilize the time out as a way to regroup, not to punish. This approach is not always the easiest, especially after a hard day at work when the situation may call for more emotional control than you can offer in the moment, but that's okay. This can be an important lesson in mindfulness for both the parent and child, which can be a great tool for emotional regulation for the whole family!
While negative behaviors are a normal part of child development, a prepared environment focusing on prevention and positive social experiences can be the best way to create learning experiences from negative ones. Tantrums and negative behaviors happen, but it’s how we prevent them and the way we utilize them that can help your child grow into a strong, independent, well-rounded individual!