Maria Montessori’s teachings are becoming increasingly popular among parents and educators, especially in early childhood, regardless of whether their children can attend a Montessori class.
The reason for this popularity is due to the fact that an increasing number of studies and scientific evidence clearly confirm Montessori’s perceptions about a child’s emotional and cognitive development, and are also raising awareness about how educational styles of the past are no longer satisfactory, especially in a changed world like today’s.
Especially with regard to the emotional aspect, there is a growing realisation that punishments and authoritarian discipline are not the right approach for addressing emotional growth and the alternating feelings in very young children.
A study by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child confirmed that emotional development begins very early in our lives and that, being a crucial aspect in the general architectural formation of the brain, it has a huge impact in the life of human beings, so much so as to influence their behaviour in future years. Given their enormous influence both on the life of everyone and in turn, therefore, on the whole of society, these discoveries should demand the utmost attention from all educational institutions: schools and families, as well as political decision-makers.
Maria Montessori had already spoken in the 20th century about emotional development as a foundation for social development. In fact she wrote that: “Maximum development is achieved during the first years of life and so it is essential at that time to pay the utmost attention. If this is done, a child does not become a burden; they will turn out to be the greatest wonder of nature”.
It is always good to remember that children in their early years are not yet in control of their emotions. They experience them for the first time in this period and they do not even know how to give a name to what they feel is happening to them. Emotional development also necessarily needs to mature over time, and it matures in step with the other areas of development, such as language, motor skills, thinking, etc.
That is why the adult should always observe the child holistically and look at him/her in all the complexity of interconnections that he/she is made of: cognitive and emotional aspects are closely linked to each other. It is no coincidence that as children develop their language, along with other skills, they also become more conscious and able to recognise and control their emotions.
All children develop here, too, in their own time and not all will be able to manage their emotions in the same period of life, and it is precisely in this that the conscious presence of the adult will make the difference. This does not mean accompanying the child only in difficult situations or with strong emotions, but it means being there and observing him/her even in the small emotions of every day; this will allow him/her to acquire greater awareness that will become extremely valuable precisely in those difficult moments or of particular emotion, even positive.
Montessori and emotional intelligence
The Montessori philosophy believes that, even in the field of emotions, children need to find help from adults in learning to cope alone. An adequately prepared environment, the presence of an attentive and non-intrusive adult supports the youngest children in developing their emotional intelligence precisely through the exchange of relationships that occur in an environment through activities with their peers, objects and adults. The parent must be a guide and needs to help the child to find his/her own control that will be the basis of his/her own self-regulation.
Give importance to all emotions!
Montessori stressed how important it is to give every child the utmost respect, and this also means knowing how to recognise and welcome their emotions, including those that still challenge us as adults, such as anger, sadness and frustration. If we want our children to learn how to manage their emotions, then it is definitely better to start with managing their emotions and be authentic in dealing with them rather than denying them. The more we are able to recognise, welcome and control all kinds of emotions openly, even in front of them, the more they will feel that they have a guide in developing their social-emotional skills.
A few little tips that will help you and your child:
Give emotions a name
Get to know with your own emotions first and give them a name; you will be in a much better position to suggest to your child the state of mind that he/she is likely to be in tomorrow. For example, instead of saying “We can't go to the beach, so there's no point in you crying!” it would be better to say: “We can't go to the beach, and that makes you sad, I can understand that.”
It is extremely important to take a look first at our own emotions and then those of our children. Our emotions, moods or stress undoubtedly have a significant impact on our children.
If, for example, your child does not want to put their jacket when it is time to go out, instead of saying: “That’s enough, put it on now, or I’ll lose my patience!” try saying: “Right now I feel rather frustrated because if you don't put on your jacket I'm afraid we'll be late for our appointment.”
Analyse emotions when you want to guide a form of behaviour
When you think your child has behaved incorrectly, start from their emotions and try to understand what led them to act as they did. If you simply say: “No, we don’t do that!”, this will not help them to understand that there are alternatives to deal with the emotion that drove them to behave badly in that moment. If your child starts crying and pushing because a toy was snatched out of their hands, saying to them “Don't cry, be nice!” will not help them to feel that their emotion was accepted; they may feel they were wrong to cry and to want their toy so desperately in that moment. Maybe we could try saying, “I know you’re frustrated because they took your toy away and your tears are normal, but pushing won’t help you get it back and it won’t make you feel better.”
Very often we try to help our children identify and deal with the emotions that we think are the most difficult ones for them, such as sadness, anger and frustration. Again, it is a better idea to maintain an overall and holistic observation of the child. It is extremely important for us adults to learn to understand, but above all to support our children to recognise what makes them feel calm, loved and happy, because in a moment of anger, frustration or sadness knowing what can calm them down and make them happy becomes an extremely powerful and effective weapon to deal with more difficult emotions.