Montessori at home: How to raise a polite child

It is the foundation for a successful community, and it is something you can easily incorporate at home.

Montessori at home: How to raise a polite child

More than anything else, a philosophy Montessori teachers call “grace and courtesy” is at the heart of every Montessori classroom. It is the foundation for a successful community, and it is something you can easily incorporate at home.

In its simplest form, grace and courtesy is what most people call “manners,” but really, it is so much more. It is how we teach children the rules of social interaction and give them the tools they need to be successful out in the world.

In Montessori classrooms, we teach grace and courtesy through giving individual and group lessons, modeling acceptable behavior, and oh-so-many-frequent reminders.


Grace and courtesy lessons

When a child pushes someone out of the way or yells “Mommy! Mommy!” while you’re on the phone, it can be so tempting to get annoyed at them for being rude. They are being rude, but it’s often because they don’t know the correct way to behave.

Instead of getting mad, try making a mental note that they need a lesson on the correct behavior. Young children need lessons on how to say “excuse me” instead of pushing, on how to wait for your attention when you’re on the phone. They need lessons on basic social interactions that we take for granted.

In Montessori classrooms, these lessons are often taught through role play. A teacher first explains the issue she’s seen, then describes the correct way to handle the situation, and then role plays with another teacher. The children then have a chance to practice.

For example, if I notice on the playground that children are feeling excluded, I might give a grace and courtesy lesson the next day on how to ask to join play and how to kindly say yes or no to the request.

When giving grace and courtesy lessons, it’s important to give the lesson at a neutral time—if I tried to interfere in the playground dispute and give the lesson at that moment, emotions might be too high to hear the message.

The same is true at home. If you want to show your children how to accept or decline a sibling’s invitation to play, don’t try to do it when they’re already fighting. Choose a calm, neutral time when they can really hear you.

Examples of grace and courtesy lessons we give in the classroom include:

  • How to greet a teacher
  • Accepting or declining an invitation
  • Serve someone food
  • Waiting for a teacher
  • Walking by someone without bumping
  • Watching someone work without interrupting them

These are just a few common lessons that come up, but a grace and courtesy lesson can be given about any social interaction or rule in the community that children need help with.

Modeling behavior

Modeling the behavior we want to see is just as important as the specific lessons we teach children.

If I give a child a lesson on speaking respectfully to someone, and he hears me being rude to a coworker, the message is lost.

As we all know, children watch and listen to everything we do and say. That can feel like a lot of pressure!

We all make mistakes sometimes, and some of them are bound to be in front of our children. If you wish you had handled a situation differently, talk about it with your child. You might say, “I lost my patience with that other driver because I was scared that he wasn’t being safe. I should not have yelled at him though. Next time I’ll just switch lanes so I don’t have to drive by him.”

Modeling this type of reflection on your behavior is just as beneficial as modeling the correct behavior itself.

Brief reminders

Once you’ve given a lesson and modeled the behavior, children will still need many reminders for a new social skill to become a habit.

It can sometimes be tempting to overlook their missteps, especially if you’re tired yourself and don’t want to get into a battle with your child. The most effective way to help a child adopt a new behavior, though, is to give a quick reminder every time.

Using a one-word reminder, or even a hand signal, allows you to frequently reinforce behavior you want to see without feeling like you’re always nagging.

For example, many children at school need reminders to push their chair in when they get up from a table. I just say “chair” or touch their chair without saying anything if we’re making eye contact. There is no need to restate the entire rule every single time. They know the rule, they just forget. A one-word reminder feels less like a lecture and is less likely to incite an argument.

Try it at home

Home is such a wonderful place to practice grace and courtesy! Situations, like eating family meals and having friends over, are the perfect opportunities for children to practice social skills.

Before your child enters a new situation, try going over some of the situations he may encounter and how to be successful.

For example, if you’ve invited someone over who your child doesn’t know, give a little lesson on how to introduce yourself. Let your child practice with you, so he’s prepared when your guest arrives.

Before a family dinner, give a lesson on how to ask someone to pass food or how to ask to be excused. Roleplay with your child and then give her the chance to practice at the dinner table.

Other examples of grace and courtesy lessons you might give your child are:

  • How to whisper in the library
  • How to clean a spill, how to get your attention while you’re on the phone
  • How to invite a friend over, how to solve a disagreement with a sibling
  • How to apologize (if it is sincere)
  • How to wait for a turn, how to introduce one’s self
  • How to decline an invitation
  • How to say thank you for a gift
  • How to offer help

With a little help and lot of patience, our children can not only learn to be polite but can learn to be their best selves in social situations and at home.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.

And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3


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Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

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A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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