Once upon a time, I was babysitting Emily (3 years) and Sophia (5 years) in their homes. It included a school-run that lasted from 3-5pm, which we later started calling the ‘home-stroll’ because we always took so long. On the first day I picked Emily up, she ran happily to me, gave me a big hug and the handed me her coat and I’d help her put it on and she walked ahead to the door. Then we scooted over to Sophia’s school. When we got home, coats, shoes and bags were left at the foot of the stairs and they ran off to do whatever it was they did. And I picked the droppings, hung everything up and heated up the dinner.
Gradually, everything became a little harder to do. They sometimes ran ahead so fast, I had great fears they’d get on the bus/ train without me. They took longer and longer to come to dinner and left a trail of everything from the kitchen to wherever they were. One day, they took my phone from my bag and sent about 4 emails of ‘wdeojdeoucheauid’ out (accidentally of course, but still?!).
This would absolutely not have happened in my classroom but I wasn’t their teacher and actually I wasn’t very sure what kind of relationship it was and couldn’t make up my mind on how I should be or what to expect. I knew I wanted them to like me and I wanted us to have a nice time! I was not having a nice time! Lucky for me, my experience told me that if I didn’t do anything by the 2nd week, I would not be coming back. This is what I did:
Week 2: Greeting and Putting on a coat
I met Emily, she gave me a big hug and held out her coat at me. I knelt down to her level and repeated, ‘Hi! Good afternoon! How are you? Have you had a nice day?’ Silence for about 10 seconds. And then she shook the coat and half her body at me and made a guttural sound. I repeated, ‘Hello, good afternoon? How are you?’ pause. Coat came down. ‘Fine.’
I continued, ‘Have you had a nice day?’ She shakes the coat and her body more violently at me, makes a louder sound and now the teachers and children are looking at me. ‘Have you had a nice day?’. Pause. Coat comes down. ‘Yes.’ Me very quickly preempts and says, ‘Can I help you with your coat?’ Coat comes up. I take it. Her back turns around and I lay it out on the floor and, ‘Here, you go,’ I said.
She turns around. Looks a little confused. Louder sound comes out and stomping. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked feigning ignorance and secretly very frightened of it going pear-shape. ‘I want you to do it,’ she said.
‘Oh, I didn’t know that. Maybe you can ask me next time. You could say, ‘Please can you help me with my coat?’
‘Please can you help me…’ she said. – death by monotonous tone if you can imagine it.
‘Of course! Here, I will show you!’ I squeezed half my arms and shoulders into her jacket and then put it back on the floor. She stares at me. I start to go over the top. ‘You can do this! Or you can do this or you can do it like this,’ I enthusiastically sell this jacket.
‘No! No! No!’ Emily goes, ‘It’s like this,’ and on goes the coat, as well as I could have done it for myself.
And of we went! Definitely not best friends. But I felt goooood!
When we met Sophia, again, I made the same attempts to be acknowledged and mutually greeted. And when we stepped through the door, I thought, ‘Here is the big one…’
Week 2: Respecting the house
I said, as they were unbuckling and unstrapping their shoes, ‘Please could you pass me your coats (pegs were high) and put your shoes in the cupboard?’ Emily brings her coat and runs off. Sophia looks at Emily giving me her coat and looks at me and walks away.
This time, it took half an hour. In a compromise, Emily and I carried one shoe each and Sophia managed to put her shoes into the cupboard after I brought it there.
I continued with the exact same expectations and by the 4th day, I felt quite like Mary Poppins.- shoes and coats went away by themselves and I was a respected and accepted member of our little going-home group.
My reward, about 1.5 months later
With our new established respectful relationship, I made some offerings myself by allowing time for a bit of meandering and window-shopping as we were on our way home, we could all take turns to tap the oyster card and collect a copy of the Evening Standard, and instead of a stressed- out rush home, it became more of ‘dar un paseo’ as my Spanish teacher would say. It became so enjoyable that they sometimes requested to walk the 4 bustops to the station. And then one particularly dreary day, this most wonderful thing happened:
We were on a crowded bus, the girls were sitting side- by-side on a 2- seater and I tried to keep the spirits up by playing ‘I spy coloured things’ as I stood next to them. Then suddenly Sophia tells Emily to move in, she moves closer to Emily and then said, ‘You can sit here, we made room.’ I sat down and Sophia hugged my arm and rested her head there and we slipped into a comfortable silence until Emily went ‘We are here! We are here!’
This was the start of our loving and respectful adult- child relationship. It’s not to say we didn’t have days when we had moments and because of the intensity of our familiarity with one another, there were many more compromises than I would have made allowance for in a classroom. But I did learn that in no matter what culture or situation, to the child, I am what I do.
Emily and Sophia saw me as the person who picked them and their stuff up! If I didn’t know better, that was who I was. I had to redefine myself to them by deciding how I was going to act around them. And who were they to me? They were children, capable of learning and adopting so much language and behaviour, and all I needed to do was to show them what the expectations were. – what the right thing to do was.
Fortunately for me, Emily and Sophia had parents who were very supportive of what I was doing which allowed things to change within a few days. Are you stuck in a power struggle with your children at home? Consider how you might redefine this relationship by identifying one or 2 key things that can make things easier for the relationship and most importantly persist in make those changes. Perhaps, it is about everyone having a meal at the same time, how laundry is sorted, or just saying ‘Good Morning’. When those changes have been made, move on to another. The best is yet to be.
‘it cannot have come from an adult person; the thought, the principle that an adult should stand aside to make room for the child, could not have come from an adult. Anyone who follows my methnot must understand that he should not honour me but take the lead of the child.’
(A speech from http://www.montessori-ami.org/montessori/mariala1942.htm)