Humble Horizons Montessori

Peace &Young Children

In light of current events I thought it timely to explore the topic of peace.  How do we teach young children to feel peace, and to be(come) peaceful individuals? 

  • Observe them, and take note of any changes from what you know to be their baseline state of peacefulness.  Feeling at peace and at ease is a psychological state of safety, contentedness, and wellbeing.  When  judging a child’s behavior, get an emotional temperature read—are they pleasantly and joyfully behaving,  or is an unpleasant emotional state paired with any particular behavior?
  • Let children be children. All children deserve to be protected from the worries and concerns of adulthood so they can experience the pure and carefree blessing that is childhood.  They don’t need to know who political figures are, how you feel about them, what politicians do, or your opinion about whether any people in our world are “good” or “bad” people. That can truly scare a young child, who doesn’t have enough knowledge about life to know if they are safe from that person or “those kind of people”. If the child can sense that those people affect you, how can the child possibly feel safe?
  • Yes we want to model the truth of the human emotional spectrum… to a developmentally-appropriate degree. There are developmentally appropriate times and ways to convey to a child that adults are experiencing unpleasant emotional states. Most of the time, the child should not be cast with the emotional burdens of adult life, or the full intensity of adult emotional expression. Learning how to temper adult emotions around children (some might call it “self control”) is one of the hardest parts of working with and raising young children.  But you have to learn do it in order to raise peaceful children. Children model what they see. If you are peaceful, they are peaceful.
  • How do you convey the emotional spectrum to the child without  creating anxiety, confusion, or feelings that the world/home is unsafe and unpredictable?  If your adult emotions at any given moment are inappropriate for childhood; and you cannot hide them (hey, we’re all human), develop the default habit of excusing yourself to another room to express the full extent of your feelings, to calm yourself, reassure yourself, and to journal and problem-solve.  If you can temporarily ignore certain adult emotional truths until the children are asleep or away, get that self-control on.   Try not to make it a habit of always “running away” and “hiding” when you have feelings. It is better to learn how to temper the intensity of your feelings for the time, place, and audience. That is true emotional intelligence.
  • Be extra mindful of your child’s chronological age and stick to topics of emotional maturity appropriate for that age. Exposing a child to too much too soon, or having expectations of them to understand or do things that is beyond their maturity level can create unease. There can be a subconscious tendency for adults to treat children who talk really well or who look physically older than they are, as if said children are in fact older than they chronologically are.  Or, if young children have older siblings, adults tend to treat the young child as equals to their elementary-aged or even adolescent-aged siblings.  Remember: young children deserve to remain emotionally two and three years old even if they can say things like “I just wanted the opportunity to make a decision”, or count past 10, or remember things like “usually my dad takes me out for ice cream every Friday” …at two years old.  Just because they sometimes present as more mature than their chronological age, it doesn’t mean they understand the world and the emotional nuances of older people ahead of age level. 
  • K.I.T.S. = “kids in the space”.  Any space where children are present must be made peaceful and safe by default.  On campus, it is a given that the space is consciously curated for peace and safety because a school space is meant to be inhabited by children.  Home, on the other hand, is a multi-aged cohabitation space.  Therefore, all adults and older siblings in the home must share that common ground rule: “kids in the space”—keep all of your speech rated G and in code, keep it peaceful, and keep it safe whenever young kids are awake and present in shared spaces of the home or car.    Think of it like the “baby on board” bumper sticker. If young children are in the space, they can absorb the words and absorb or intuit emotional tones.  The infant baby absorbs and knows emotions long before they ever learn to speak because they come out as sentient and observant beings. Babies and young children can feel feelings extremely well because they don’t have the words and the logic like older people do. They’re still highly in touch with raw human emotion. Therefore, negative news media, frighteningly negative feelings, and things that create fear or unease about the world belongs in the same space as young children. This also feeds children positive thoughts that lend to peace.
  • Sing songs about peace. Peace like a river. Light a candle for Peace. The whole world in His hand. This little light of mine. Kimie Miner’s (Haku Collective’s) entire kid’s album.
  • Create a “peace place”.  The Montessori tradition loves to have this thing called the “peace table”, but for younger children I love the idea of a “peace place”, which I adopted from the organization “Go Girls” out of Oakland, California. Have a table or a rug & pillow your child can go to when they need to get their emotions back to baseline. Put peaceful books here, things that calm them, photos of people who reassure them, a silk flower with a drop of lavender essential oil on it to smell, a cozy blanket, etc.  
  • Teach the names of the basic human emotions and use them to label your child’s experience.  These are: Happy, sad, anger, fear, disgust, and surprise. Every other emotion is a synonym, a secondary emotion, a state, a thought about your feeling, or a characteristic/trait.   
  • You don’t have to lie to young children if you don’t know what the outcome will be, or if someone’s emotional expression is inappropriate for your child to have witnessed. The words “I don’t know; but I can…” are powerful. The modern adult is way more socially refined than we once used to be (adios gender norms, bonjour restorative justice). We also now know about the phenomenon of toxic positivity (the ignoring or downplaying of someone’s negative emotions and responding to it with forced optimism (saying things like “Don’t worry about it, you’ll get through it”). Hope and a healthy degree of optimism can keep people wanting to move forward. But positive outcomes are not always guaranteed in life; and when everyone keeps telling you a positive outcome will happen that keeps never arriving, you end up feeling even more confused, frustrated, isolated, in despair, and mistrustful about life.  So if the young children ask “why”, you don’t always have to give them inappropriate information, or even intangible platitudes like “hope” or “abstraction” at all. You can respond with “the concrete”. “I don’t know (why dad is so upset), but I can (ask if he’d like a hug)”.
  • Encourage discussion of feelings while being the gatekeeper of what our children are exposed to.  A great default phrase to use with young children is “grown up reasons”. Just like we say in the Montessori classroom “That’s grown-ups work”. Example… Adult: “I’m feeling a little (negative emotion) today”. Young child : why?  Adult: Grown up reasons— And that’s all they need to know until they become adults themselves. They’ll get 80ish delicious years in the often stressful adult reality to experience it all by themselves soon enough, without you projecting the truths of adulthood onto them prematurely. If they keep pressing, just say “Maybe you’ll understand when you become a grown up one day, but I hope you’ll feel happy and peaceful when you grow up”.
  • Grant permission for your family members and classroom peers to have the autonomy to feel and manage their own individual emotions.  How mom feels is not how dad may feel about the same situation.  You can feel upset while I feel perfectly at peace.  Storming the capitol building deeply upsets a lot of people… and then there are also people in other parts of the country whose top priority today is “how am I going to afford to buy my baby diapers?”, not “what did some people do on capitol hill today?”. When it is helpful, there are some situations with young children where you can point out how the other people around you appear to be feeling, strive to reassure the young child, and help them cope with their emotions without denying their perception.  For example “I’m safe and I’m happy. Jane is safe and looks happy. Bobby is safe and looks happy.  You are safe.  School is safe and we’re all safe right now.  But I can see that you feel uneasy because you feel like you are really missing mommy.  How might I help you feel better right now?  Knowing how to have your own feelings about life, and learning how to change your own feelings by doing things, is powerful. Children can experience that, too.
  • Teach emotions in a cause-and-effect way.  When developmentally appropriate, show young children how emotions are a cause-and-effect situation.  “When I don’t get enough sleep, I feel irritable/grumpy”.  “when someone bumps into me, sometimes I feel bothered”.  “When someone yells too loud I feel afraid/surprised”.  “when I hear bad news, I feel sad. But…”
  • Always model emotional management.  If you have the ability to state feelings with words, kudos to you. That is huge! But that’s not all. After you talk about how you feel, and the simple cause-and-effect about why, always provide a coping skill follow-up plan.  The reason people remain in emotional distress is because they don’t know what to do to get themselves back to peace. And then they feel stuck, helpless, and hopeless. Emotional intelligence is taught to people. Sometimes it’s taught by example, and if it is not taught by example in the home or elsewhere, your child will have to learn it later on in adulthood somehow. So model it now while they’re young.   “I feel anxious. I’m going to have a cup of chamomile tea”.  “Mommy feels upset.  I’m going to hug her and remind her I love her”.  “I feel super energized, I need to exercise”.   They’re called e-motions because they need a place to go.  Help young children learn how to move through emotional states. 
  • Smile and laugh. After you’ve helped a young child restore their emotional baseline back to peace, see if you can get them to smile or laugh. Joy is medicine for the soul, and it is contagious when people feel better than at peace. Joy helps people forget about stressors. So if the child is up to it after an upset, do something fun.

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