Learning curve: Why we need to drop the idea of the terrible twos

Looking to find their way in what can be a confusing world, our toddlers need support not criticism, a Montessori teacher tells Margaret Jennings

WE are all familiar with the phrase ‘terrible twos’, a self-explanatory term that tags little kids as being hard work, with the adults around them frustrated at their latest outburst of ‘no!’, or some other defiant behaviour.

But Montessori teacher and mother-of-two Simone Davies is on a mission: To get us to change the way we see toddlers, whom she terms “misunderstood humans”.

“I feel I have to be an advocate for them because they are given such a bad reputation and really some of their behaviour isn’t easy — it is difficult.

“It isn’t easy when they wake up during the night, or they have a meltdown in the middle of the street, or wherever it is,” she says.

“They do say ‘no’ because they are trying to assert their own independence in the world and their own independent thought and we want to raise these independent children, but we want them to agree with us all the time as well!” What needs to be changed is our perspective about “these little humans who are super- curious about the world,” she says.

“And so when you see them exploring or running away from you, it’s actually because they’ve just seen an open space and they just want to go and explore it; they’re not trying to get themselves into danger or upset you by losing themselves. They live very much in the present moment.

“I find them delightful to be around because it reminds me to stay present; because they spot little weeds growing up through the pavement and think that’s amazing, when we don’t even notice that kind of thing anymore,” Simone tells Feelgood.

The warmth she expresses towards toddlers springs from her experience over the past decade as a teacher following the Montessori method which encourages children to lead their own learning about the world, supported in a kind and respectful way by the adults around them.

Both of her own children, Oliver, now 18, and Emma, 17, spent the first 12 years of their lives in the Montessori system and that was when she first fell in love with the approach.

“I was actually working in the corporate world and when my son and daughter were born I realised I really enjoyed hanging out with these little people and started going to the Montessori playgroup. I did my training and I find it delightful — such a wonderful way to work with children and also with families,” she says.

While traditional education involves a ‘one size fits all’ perspective, with the teacher deciding what children need to learn and imparting that in a top-down approach, with Montessori education there is a dynamic relationship between child, adult, and the learning environment, with the child in charge, supported by the adult, respecting the uniqueness of each individual.

All of this is explained in Simone’s new book

The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide To Raising A Curious and Responsible Human Being, which oozes with the warmth and passion she exhibits when talking on the subject.

A native Australian living in Amsterdam, where she runs parent-child classes, her book encompasses the questions she has been asked and her experience of working with thousands of families over the years.

While Montessori schools may be thin on the ground in Ireland, the book is a guide for parents and childminders to incorporate aspects of its approach into everyday life — learning tools to work together respectfully with children, discovering how to create Montessori activities right for their development; and learning how to set up a home with their needs in mind, even if it is just accommodating them with appropriate height bookshelves that they can access themselves.

When we bring a curious friendly open approach to children, rather than an ‘I know everything; I’m the adult’ perspective, they feel “totally seen and respected and understood for who they are,” says Simone.

Even with tiny toddlers who cannot yet speak, this works. “In my classes, I can translate for them if they are unable to articulate for instance, whether something is disappointing to them or not. I’m reading their body language, and saying ‘are you feeling angry about that? Come show me!’ And they might then go and bang on a pillow or draw an angry picture and so we are showing them in an acceptable way, how they could show their disappointment, or some frustration,” she says.

Toddlers’ difficult behaviour — those meltdowns, for example — comes from distress and is a cry for help. We need to move from feeling attacked to searching for a way to be supportive of them, she says.

Those Montessori principles build a foundation of trust which Simone finds still apply to her own children.

“Teenagers can be very hormonal and emotional, so instead of saying ‘don’t talk to me like that!’ if they are emotional, I would say ‘oh you sound like you’re having a hard time! You want to talk about it, or do you need some space?’

“It’s just a completely different relationship I have with my kids — I love hanging out with them and they know that I love them, even when they are at their worst. And even if I say three hours later ‘you know when you rolled your eyes at me earlier?’ They’d be like ‘sorry, sorry, sorry — I don’t know why I was feeling so emotional’.

“It’s not a battlefield — just like toddlers, it’s a cry for help: ‘I’m actually really struggling right now’. It’s been really fun to apply those principles at home. It’s just a much more relaxing way of being a parent in the long run.”

The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide To Raising A Curious and Responsible Human Being, by Simone Davies, €13.24, published by Workman Publishing.

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