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6 questions Montessori teachers ask when they want to change ‘bad’ behavior

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Most children go through a phase where their behavior makes us really frustrated. When this happens, the natural tendency is to react in anger or annoyance (and I've certainly done this plenty of times). That kind of reaction isn't generally that productive though, and depending on the child and their motivations, can even encourage them to continue the undesired behavior.

A big part of Montessori is observing the children and the classroom to see what is going well and what isn't, who is thriving and who needs a little extra love. In cases of "bad behavior," we take a moment to really sit and observe the child and think about what might be causing the behavior and what we might be able to do to stop it.

Here are six questions Montessori teachers ask when we want a behavior to change, and how to apply them to your own children and home.

1. “Are their basic needs met?”

Are they tired when they start biting friends? Are they hungry when they're rolling around on the floor? Do they need a reminder to use the toilet when they start to lose control of their body?

When young children feel uncomfortable, they are often unable to pinpoint what is wrong. They sometimes need us to help remind them to take care of their bodies. To determine if a child's behavior is linked to a physical need, we look for trends in when the behavior occurs. If it always happens mid-morning, they may need a snack. If they're losing control in the early afternoon, they may need to rest.

With your own child, think about the time the undesired behavior is happening. It can help to keep a little notebook or something in your phone's notes to track the behavior for a few days to see if you notice trends. Then experiment, offering a snack or a little rest or a bathroom break around that time.

2. “What are they really trying to do?”

Another thing we look for is the motivation behind a child's behavior. Are they throwing things for the sensory stimulation of watching and hearing them hit the floor? Are they trying to get some attention?

Maybe they're hitting their friend because they don't know how to problem solve verbally. Or, they're wanting to roughhouse, but don't know how to invite a friend to play.

Young children don't do things to be "bad," even if it seems like there can be no other reason. Brainstorm a few factors that might be motivating the behavior and try addressing each one. You might help them find an appropriate activity that gives similar sensory feedback, such as a rain stick instead of the sound of a box of beads hitting the floor. Or, talk them through how to respond verbally when someone takes their toy.

Simply acknowledging that the behavior has a motivation beyond annoying you can be super helpful for your peace of mind, even if you haven't found the reason yet.

3. “How can I change the layout of the room to address the behavior?”

We often say in Montessori, "You can't change the child, but you can change the environment."

One of a Montessori teacher's most important responsibilities is crafting a classroom environment that is beautiful, peaceful and conducive to concentration. This environment isn't a static thing—it must change to meet the needs of each child, and this is the same at home.

If we notice that children are often running full speed ahead through a certain part of the classroom, we might move a shelf so the space doesn't invite running. If we notice that a certain corner has become a hiding spot, we may rearrange things so that it's more visible.

At home, if your younger child is always getting into your oldest's art supplies, consider placing them on a higher shelf. If your child is always tracking mud through the house, place a little basket or shelf by the door for shoes.

4. “How can I prevent the behavior?”

It is so much easier to prevent a behavior from occurring entirely than to try to stop it once it's underway. If you really reflect on when a behavior is happening and what might be causing it, you can often prevent it.

If one child always hits another, you may need to be nearby when they're together for a while. If your child always has a meltdown when it's time to go home for a nap, you may need to try heading home a bit earlier in the morning.

It can take some trial and error, but preventing a behavior can not only make your whole day easier, but it also can prevent a child from falling into a behavioral pattern, which may go on for much longer than it needs to.

5. “Why is this bothering me?”

In some cases, like when a child is hurting others or safety is a concern, it is obvious why a behavior is upsetting us. In other instances, we may need to take a look at ourselves to figure out if the behavior is really a problem, or if it's triggering our emotions for personal reasons. It may be hard to step back and let a child figure out social situations on their own if we struggled socially.

Whining might be particularly annoying to us if we got in trouble for whining ourselves as a child. Nap time avoidance antics might frustrate us more if we are completely exhausted at that time of day.

If it's not blatantly obvious, try to think about why a behavior is so annoying to you. Even if you still want the behavior to stop, it can help you have a little more patience and empathy with your kids.

6. “How can I deepen my relationship with the child?”

More than any other question, this one is the key to helping a child change their behavior. At the end of the day, children don't listen to us because we yell loud enough or repeat something enough times—they listen to us when they feel close and connected, when they want to be with us and please us.

It can be easy to retreat when we feel like we really need a break from a behavior, but it's so much better to lean into the relationship and think about how to spend more time, or even just more quality time, with our children.

A child going through a rough patch with behavior usually needs us more than ever, even if it seems like they're trying to drive us away. Finding time for a one on one chat or a few more snuggles can help strengthen that bond that we both need so badly.

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Learn + Play

As a young adult, I lived in fear of pregnancy. In the small town where I'm from, enough girls became pregnant in high school that the saying “It's in the water" wasn't just a funny joke. Way before I became sexually active I knew having a baby young changed your life choices.

I wanted to go to college. I wanted to travel the world. I also believed I could have children later in life. My father had a friend who had a baby at 40. Her success left quite an impression on my 12-year-old self. If she could do it, so could I.

My infertility journey began after a miscarriage in my late 30s. I took the loss hard but thought becoming pregnant again would be easy. When getting pregnant didn't happen right away, I became obsessed. Each day that passed I became even more determined, yet alone.

It seemed that everyone around me was darting down the path of parenthood without a glitch. When someone I knew became pregnant, I would casually ask how long it took to conceive. The answer was always, “We got pregnant on our first try."

These conversations made me feel as if I was the only one deficient, old and barren. I remember interviewing for a promotion at work and not getting the job. The co-worker who got the promotion was pregnant. The heaviness of failure consumed me.

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One year after the miscarriage, I found myself in my doctor's office. She explained that the tests indicated a low ovarian reserve—a fancy way of saying that the number of eggs I had left had diminished. She went on to say that due to my advanced maternal age (a term for anyone over 35) the remaining eggs might be at a lower quality. Having a baby wasn't impossible, it was just highly unlikely. I was devastated.

The biggest toll of infertility is the silence

I couldn't talk about my infertility. My struggle was somehow my fault and confiding in others would be highlighting my imperfection. Instead, I attended baby showers, lived through Facebook birth announcements and baby pictures, and listened to mothers complain about their children. All of it seemed unfair and hurtful. Every new baby born was a personal attack against me. It wasn't logical.

I even stopped talking to a good friend of mine when she became pregnant. Staying connected seemed too hard. I couldn't even talk about my feelings of shame and frustration with my husband. He kept telling me to relax and be patient. His biological clock wasn't ticking as hard as mine. Our different perspectives only further highlighted how alone I was.

Infertility is not only silent, it's physically draining

Each month that passed, my obsession increased. I woke up early each morning and popped a basal thermometer in my mouth to check for ovulation. I rubbed progesterone on my wrists in the first half of my cycle to extend the luteal phase (giving the fertilized egg more time to plant itself in my uterus).

I went to acupuncture three times a week to increase the quality of my eggs. I popped an organic, raw-food multi-vitamin that gave me heartburn. I decided to complete 30 days straight of Bikram yoga to cleanse my reproductive system.

I stopped sleeping. Once I was up for 36 hours straight. I saw a psychologist and a doctor to get a prescription for Ambien. I bought a juicer and grew wheat grass. The smell eventually made me gag every time I drank the green goo. There wasn't anything I wasn't willing to do or try in order to increase my fertility. I was physically drained, yet I couldn't stop.

Infertility is also expensive

Most insurance policies don't cover infertility. Not even diagnostic tests to determine the problem are covered, let alone a more costly procedure such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Vitamins, supplements, and diagnostic tests add up fast.

Once I learned that my problem was a low ovarian reserve, I knew that IVF was the best choice. I researched clinics in the San Diego area where I lived, and the minimum amount was $15,000. The cost didn't even include medication, which could be anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000. On average the procedure is $20,000 to $30,000.

The worst part is that there's no guarantee. For someone with my problem and age, I had about a 20% success rate. Flip that around and that's an 80% chance of failure. Most people go through IVF multiple times before the procedure results in a live birth.

I read stories of women getting second mortgages on their houses or borrowing thousands of dollars and being unsuccessful multiple times. Eventually, they had to come to terms with living in debt, childless.

Infertility causes you to lose spirit

I had this sense that whatever I was doing didn't matter or wasn't worth my time. I would be out with friends and the moment seemed lifeless and bland. I was stuck and couldn't move forward. When I saw a mother with her child, tears would spring to my eyes.

I would think why couldn't I have a child? Why was something so easy for her, so hard for me? I began to lose my drive and my spirit, and I stopped making plans. The future looked bleak.

A good friend of mine told me about a friend who struggled with infertility. Her friend decided after many years of trying to live life childless. In this decision, she also promised herself that she would make it the best life possible; otherwise, the choice would be too hard. Her words stuck with me. Perhaps, the time had come to give up. I began the process of letting go of becoming a mother.

But something stopped me.

I stumbled across the book, Inconceivable: A Woman's Triumph Over Despair and Statistics by Julia Indichova. It was being discussed in an online forum for infertility. I devoured the book. The author, like me, was older, had Czech roots, and had a low ovarian reserve. Her personal account of her infertility journey inspired me to look past the science and into my emotional blockage.

I began to practice visualizations like she did. I discovered that despite all my best efforts to conceive, a deeper part of me believed that I would never have a child. I thought I didn't deserve a baby.

I learned to break through this certainty through visualizations. I imagined myself holding a child to my chest. I imagined one beautiful egg dropping down and being fertilized. I watched myself stand in a river with all my fears washing through me.

I then started to sense a shift. I was sleeping better. I began to make plans. I researched IVF treatments in Tijuana, Mexico. Three months later I underwent the procedure. I decided that if this didn't work, I would live my life childless. Not only childless but to the fullest.

I waited two weeks for the IVF results. When the call came, I had my husband answer because I couldn't bear to hear the news. I watched his face for any sign of whether or not my life would include a child. No sign.

Then, he smiled.

I was pregnant. I couldn't believe the results. Joy streamed through me. Nine months later I delivered a healthy baby boy.

Recently, a friend of mine struggling with infertility asked me for advice. My first thought was to say, “Relax, it will happen." Then I remembered how advice like this would have brought me little comfort on my infertility journey. Instead, I told her to be patient, be kind to herself, and to confide in trusted friends.

What I didn't say to her was that the scar of infertility, despite finally being a mother, is never quite forgotten. I look at those years as the dark years. The true cost of infertility can't be measured.

But after the darkness has passed, when you hold your baby in your arms, the struggle is worth the pain. Perhaps, that's what I should have said: The journey to your child is worth it. Don't give up.

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Life

We're not only at the beginning of a new year, but the start of a new life for those due in 2019. If you're expecting a baby this year you've got plenty of celebrity company, mama.

Here are some fellow parents-to-be expecting in 2019:

Jenna Bush Hager is pregnant with baby no. 3! 🎉

There's going to be a lot of new parent talk happening backstage at the Today show this year! A week ago Today co-host Hoda Kotb announced she's just adopted her second child, and now, Kotb's co-host Jenna Bush Hager has announced her third pregnancy!

On Easter Monday, Bush Hager told co-host Craig Melvin (and America) while chatting about what her family got up to over Easter. Apparently, once her girls (6-year-old Mila and 3-year-old Poppy) found out there was no more keeping it a secret.

"Yes, I'm pregnant!" Jenna said. "And I'm only telling because Mila and Poppy found out yesterday in their Easter baskets. (Then) they told the man behind me on the airplane; they told the people at church. So ..."

Congrats to Jenna (and to Poppy and Mila, we're sure they'll be great big sisters)! 🎉

[A version of this post was originally published October 21, 2018. It has been updated. ]

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News

The first time my daughter told me someone named Ashley painted her nails at Daddy's house I thought I was going to implode. Another woman was loving on my daughter in the family I built. I texted my ex, "Who is Ashley and how long have you known her and why is she painting my daughter's nails?"

What should have come next was, I feel replaced. I am jealous. I am competitive. I am angry. I am heartbroken.

Instead, I told myself it was my "mama lion" coming out; the woman who wanted to protect her child from a string of girlfriends and hold her little heart safely in my hands. It was partly true, but the hysteria and anger I felt signaled that much deeper hurt was bubbling its way to the surface and using "it's for our daughter" as an excuse to play out my pain.

It took a full 24 hours of deep anger, soul searching, crying and finally surrender, to realize that my daughter would have other women in her life and I had no say in how they entered, behaved or left.

I had to give up my desire to control what happened at Daddy's house. My only power lied in my influence over my daughter and on that day I chose to believe that she would be a much healthier human being if she was raised by strong women who came together to support her in life.

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Women have been programmed to compete for jobs, security and partners in our patriarchal society. It is understandable that we feel competitive when another woman falls in love with the man we once did, and tucks the children that came from our bodies into beds that aren't made by us.

It is programming, but that doesn't mean it is permanent. It also doesn't mean there isn't pain to be felt, processed and released. You have to heal your wounds so you can approach the new members of your child's life with grace and forge new relationships.

It requires a shift in mindset and a retooling of your previous relationship, a lot of confidence and respect on all parts, and a focus on the child first. You have to recognize the influence a stepparent will have on your child and that it is better to be teamed up and kid-centered, as opposed to stewing over past issues, sitting in blame, regret or jealousy. I had to discover who I was as a newly single woman and co-parenting mother without old stories.

Ashley only painted Olivia's nails for a year or so, and her dad and I had great conversations about how and when we would bring people into our daughter's life. When he met Jessica he called me, "I've met someone and I'd like to introduce her to Olivia, but wanted to talk to you about it."

My only question has ever been, "Is she a good person?" We talked about Jessica, his feelings and certainty, and over time they met and we did too. I sent him a text after a brief and completely casual encounter, "I like her. Don't mess it up."

Jessica and I ran into one another at a yoga studio shortly after they all moved in together. She asked how I felt Olivia was handling the change and very sweetly offered, "You are always the mom!" I smiled, appreciative of the unnecessary gesture, and told her that Olivia loves feminine energy and that she'd thrive having Jessica in the same house.

Several years later I not only love Jessica, I love their son, Luke, as well. Our entire little blended family lucked out. Jessica treats Olivia as her own but is so conscientious about my role in Olivia's life that I've never felt threatened. I am thrilled my daughter is supported by a strong, confident woman and that she sees us getting along as a village, as opposed to competitors.

Jessica recently called me concerned that Olivia was receiving poor messages at school about the importance of pretty as opposed to smart. We came up with a plan, laid down a few rules for messaging in both houses and in no time we had a little feminist running around with t-shirts announcing "Girls Are Smart, Strong and Brave." We spend Christmas mornings together, Halloween trick or treating, and have deep respect for one another and our passions, relationships and careers.

When I recently vacationed in Tanzania I had to update my estate plan and asked Jessica if, in the extreme unlikelihood that both of Olivia's parents were to pass while she was a minor, would she become Olivia's guardian? It's important to me that Olivia grows up with the brother she adores and a woman who loves her (almost) as much as I do.

There wasn't a missed beat, "Absolutely. I want them to stay together." While Luke doesn't care for me as much since I keep Olivia away from him every other week, "Sissy mommy, go home," we work.

We are blessed that each one of us, at some point, made a choice to let fears, ego, jealousy, blame and hurt go for the sake of one little girl and our collective family.

Excerpt from LORE: Harnessing Your Past to Create Your Future with permission from Balboa Press.

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I gave birth to my daughter, Emerson, at age 37 and my son, Liam, at age 38. My children are intentionally only 18 months apart because I didn't want to tempt the hands of time.

I was induced at 37 weeks for both births, impressed that my body could withstand natural childbirth considering that my biggest fear was that I wouldn't be able to push them out on my own. But I did and our healthy babies were here at last.

For me, being of an "advanced maternal age" has its physical limitations. The toddler years were exhausting, the bones in my feet crack when I do something as simple as walk across a room, and if I try anything remotely athletic—like jump on the trampoline with my now 6-and-7-year-old—there's a good chance I'll pee my pants.

Despite the fact that I don't have as much energy as I used to (coffee helps, but let's be honest), I'm so happy I had my kids when I did. Here are the advantages I've found in older motherhood.

1. I don't feel like I'm missing out.

Before I got married, I traveled the world, as far as Greece, Thailand and Japan. I spent summers after college living with friends in a tiny bungalow a few blocks from the beach. I earned my master's degree while working at a publishing house in New York City—those years of my life earmarked by intellectual freedom, spontaneous happy hours and long stretches of time when I could simply wander the city with nowhere in particular to go.

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Now I have a busier schedule and I'm responsible for more humans, but I'm just as happy going to the shore for a week each summer and taking short road trips with our children. And when my friends tell me they're going on a family vacation to the tropics, I'm not envious, but rather relieved that I'll be sitting on my couch binge-watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey while they're flying across the ocean with their kids.

2. I think differently about friendship.

Do I want to be well-liked by the moms at my kids' school? Of course. Do I need to be in the "popular" mom group? No. I don't feel pressure to get invited to every at-home jewelry party or moms' night out and, if it weren't for Facebook, I'd be oblivious to what other moms do on the weekends anyway.

I have amazing girlfriends and spending quality time with these women keeps me feeling like myself. But I'm more invested in my kids' social well-being than my own. Do they have kind friends? Are they happy at school? Are they able to resolve big-kid conflicts fairly quickly? And if my children have a playdate at someone else's house, can I stay?

I'm not lingering at playdates to check out the condition of the playroom or scan the medicine cabinet for questionable prescription labels but because I genuinely want to get to know the parents of my kids' friends. They'll be spending a lot of time together, and as the kids' friendship grows, hopefully, ours will too.

3. I'm not afraid to speak up.

Maybe I'm a bit overzealous about checking for strep throat or ask too many questions during my kids' wellness visits, but our pediatrician and I have come to a mutual understanding. I respect that she's the one with the medical degree (not Google), and she knows I'm vigilant about my kids' health not because I'm too much, but because I'm confident enough to trust my gut.

While my younger self would avoid confrontation AT ALL COSTS, the older me doesn't waste any time if I sense that something is off at school or not quite right with my child. Whether I'm talking to their doctor, coach or teacher, I approach the conversation as if I'm speaking with an equal who also has the best interest of my kids at heart.

4. I see the big picture.

When I was a kid, I put a ton of pressure on myself to get straight A's to the point of hyperventilating when I got a B on a test only to be sent to the nurse's office to breathe into a brown paper bag (true story). No child should be that worried about grades because even though I graduated at the top of my high school class, I don't remember much except for that time my friend Jen made crepes on an electric skillet during French class.

When it comes to my kids' education, less homework is more. Longer recess and more independent play are best. Does my child have an outdoorsy teacher who hatches baby chicks in class? Great! Do they have a nice group of friends to sit with at lunch? Even better!

I'm 100% confident my kids will learn everything they need to in school without having to stress over it, something I might have overlooked when I was still focused on the small details.

5. I've learned to slooow down.

Growing up, my younger sister and I would build forts out of cardboard boxes and ride our bikes until it was time to come inside for dinner. We shared a bedroom until I was 10, wore hand-me-downs and spent most of our childhood outside.

Today I realize that my kids don't need overpacked schedules, fancy vacations or expensive toys to be happy. What they do need is downtime, trips to the library, nature walks, unstructured play, and lazy summers when we swim every day and eat dinner outside every night.

I also take a more laid-back approach to discipline than I would have before. I don't react to their overreactions. We talk, I give them the reasons behind what I say and do, and I'm quick to apologize if I do something wrong. Although this approach isn't fool-proof, it makes them feel safe to express a wide range of emotions in front of me without feeling bad about it.

The older I get, the more appreciative I am of those fleeting childhood moments.

Like when Emerson says "I love you" first.

Or when Liam calls me an "adorable, normal mom" and we both laugh because neither one of us is exactly sure what he means but it's funny anyway.

When Emerson reaches for my hand or Liam needs to be consoled a little longer because it's not only his knee that hurts.

When they dance while brushing their teeth, admiring themselves in a spit-speckled mirror.

When they laugh so hard together I thank God they'll have each other—even long after I'm gone.

I'm aware that my time with them is limited—they will grow up, go to college, move out and start their own families while I watch proudly from the sidelines. But until then, I'll give them all of me and continue to parent from an older—albeit not perfect but hopefully a bit wiser—perspective.

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Life
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