Ideals with Realities:
Lighthouse Montessori’s school vision is a more peaceful world, and striving for peace is why each and every teacher in the classroom shows up every morning. At the same time, we are working with very young children who are just beginning to develop self-control and empathy. If we are truly going to help our children succeed, we have to meet them where they are with age- appropriate expectations for their behavior. Here are two important qualities of young children to keep in mind with regard to peace and violence:
1) They possess very little self-control. Self-control is managed in the prefrontal cortex, the most recently evolved part of our brains. The prefrontal cortex is just beginning to develop in young children, and isn’t complete until age 25! Even in adults, when the brain is flooded with fear or anger, communication from the prefrontal cortex shuts down. So even though they know that hitting is “wrong”, in the heat of the moment that message can’t get through.
2) They are egocentric (and that’s a good thing!). It is easy for us to forget how little time these children have been alive – they are still desperately trying to figure out their emotions, their bodies, and their place in the world. Everything is about them, and it needs to be for them to have a firm foundation and sense of self. This means that they are always zoomed in to their own experience, and empathy is not reliably on-line until about age six. It is a huge challenge for them to imagine how someone else feels, and sometimes it is impossible.
We know that hitting and pushing, rough and tumble play, and even the occasional bite will happen. We would be worried if the children did not try out these methods! What we want is to minimize the harm done, give them the skills they are lacking, and respond by increasing our connection.
Our response to violence:
To start, supervision is our most useful tool with this age group. We know they are not yet peaceful, and so we are watching for when a conflict will occur. While we want to give children the space to solve their own conflicts, when we notice a conflict brewing a teacher will move nearby, ready to step in if necessary.
Unfortunately, adults are not able to prevent all violence. When violence does occur, we:
Separate and assess: Stop the hurt, and check to see if anyone is injured. If they need first aid we will respond accordingly.
Help the children check on each other: When both parties are calm (this could be after taking space), they will check on anyone who was injured. They always ask in this same way:
a. “Are you hurt?” b. “Where are you hurt?” c. “What can I do for you?” They can then help in taking care of each other by getting band-aids or ice packs.
- Peace stone conversation: Each child holds a physical stone and has a turn to tell his/her story, then the other child repeats what he/she heard. The adult also encourages children to share their emotions and to say what they do not like or do not want to have happen again. At the end of the conversation, the adult helps the children come to a decision about how to deal with this type of situation in the future.
Why do we use the Peace Stone?
• Understanding & Amends > Punishment: Instead of a focus on punishment, the peace stone conversation is a focus on understanding the harm done and then making amends. As a leader of the restorative justice movement writes, “those who have caused harm should begin to understand the consequences of their behavior. Moreover, it means they have a responsibility to repair the harm [. . . .] This is not only the ‘right’ thing to do but is more likely than punishment to deter future offending.” So, rather than the adult handing down a punishment, this conversation allows the children to understand how they impacted each other, which is how they will build empathy, and gives them a chance to make it right.
• Empower the harmed person: This approach empowers the harmed person to tell his/her story and express that it was not okay. It helps the person heal, and is far more of a deterrent for the other child than an adult reminding them of a rule.
• Healing for all: Both children are given a chance to talk, and we listen without judgment. In most cases, the child who is violent is missing a skill. Giving them a chance to tell their story helps build a skill right then – using their words – and helps the adults realize what they need to practice in the future.
How will they learn something new?
Practice!! Repeated practice with using words, getting help, and hearing their friends’ experiences is the only way they will learn something new. If we want them to override the instinct to lash out when they are emotional, they must practice these new skills so much that they become second nature; muscle memory.
Role play is the best way to gain this muscle memory. We will often replay a situation right after the peace stone conversation, practicing the peaceful option, and often practice that skill with the children over the next few weeks as well. Grace and Courtesies are a way to practice these skills at neutral times, and in a fun manner, so that they become enmeshed in their neural pathways. In a Grace & Courtesy lesson an adult shows a skit and then give the children a chance to practice what was show. For example, “What to do when you are mad at someone” (Tell them, I’m mad at you!)
How can you help at home?
Have peace stone conversations at home! We are happy to give you more training and answer questions to get you started out in your household.
When your child shares a story with you at home, ask about his/her feelings from it and validate those feelings. Ask about what she/he might do next time a friend does ___ (calls them a name, hurts their feelings, pushes them, etc.) and always encourage them to come get teachers for help at school.