Posts tagged routine
Amazing Ways Routine Can Help Children of Divorce
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A letter…

Good morning, Aubrey,

I am so inspired by your gentle and beautiful model of the Montessori lifestyle and parenting. I am emailing you today to ask for some recommendations you could give me so that I can better help my son through some life transitions. 

I am a single mom, sharing custody with my son’s dad, and I have noticed my son having a difficult time with the adjustment between our house and his time with his dad. 

Do you have any ideas on things that I can do to better help my son during these transitions, and to help his time back at home with me be even more successful, gentle and healing for him? 


Dear, sweet mama…

I have never been separated from my children’s father, and I can only imagine what it is like to be in your shoes. Parenting while single and sharing your little sweetheart son with another person remotely sounds so stressful - for you and your child.

So before I talk about some strategies to help with transitions, I want you to know that just being in this situation takes a lot of bravery -- not just the weight of responsibility on your shoulders as a single mom but also to let go of what you cannot control on the other end. Please be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for all that you do already. You are enough just as you are. You are 100% brave.

That being said, let’s talk about transitions.

For every child at every stage of life, there must be a balance between consistent routines and open-ended flexibility. Children are born with a natural biological preference toward one end of the spectrum or another, and before you can determine how to best help your own child through any stressful life experience, you might pause first to consider whether your son generally responds positively to schedules.

The Sensitive Period for Order

No matter their personal biological leanings, child development research tells us that all children younger than age 6 are particularly attuned to the order of everything in their environments. In Montessori education, we call this the sensitive period for order.

“Order is one of the needs of life which, when satisfied, produces a real happiness.…Order consists in recognizing the place for each object in relation to its environment and in remembering where or each thing should be.

This implies that one is able to orient one's self within one's environment and to dominate it in all its details. The proper environment of the soul is one in which an individual can move about with eyes closed eyes and find, simply by reaching out his hand, anything he desires.

Such an environment is necessary for peace and happiness.” - Maria Montessori

This includes the hands-on things, such as where the day’s clothing can be found, to the intangible things, such as whether the teeth are brushed at night. The more consistent and intentional we are with our home spaces and rhythms, the better for our children’s sense of order.

You might start with making sure that your home spaces are cultivated in this way.

 
 
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Make it Visual

Young children also often appreciate a good head’s up about what is to be expected of them at different times of the day.

You don’t have to get specific (after all, children don’t have firm concepts of time) but in general, knowing what is likely to happen next can provide your child a feeling of security when in your care.

Many parents create visual schedules to satisfy this need, and it’s not hard to do! You can use google images or clipart if you like, but the most effective visual schedules are photos of your child’s real routines in his real home.

Here’s how:


When your child is happy and awake and ready to play with you, tell your child that you are going to document what happens during his day.

With him, role-play waking up in his bed (snap a photo!), choosing his clothes for the day (snap a photo!), brushing his teeth (snap a photo!), eating breakfast (snap a photo!), etc.

Try not to take too many pictures -- just the main events you would like to keep consistent.

Print them out and display them somewhere in your home. You might use a pre-made photo flip book or a piece of long poster board stapled to your wall. You can get all fancy and laminate them as cards that can be shifted around (a little velcro goes a long way) or you can just tack them up to the refrigerator.

It really doesn’t matter how pretty the presentation is.

The important thing is that sometime during the day when your child is first returning home to you, the two of you will review your photos in order. When you point to each photo, talk as meaningfully as you can about them. For example, “Here you are in your comfy bed. This is where you will sleep tonight when you go to bed. Do you want to sleep with your bear as usual or choose a different lovey to sleep with tonight?”

Going over the expected routine, even if it seems obvious to you, will comfort your little one and bring a sense of security when re-entering your environment after the disruption in routine.

Snuggles and Patience Both Win

Many children, after any kind of parent-separation (like having a babysitter or going to daycare or school), seek extra snuggles and will show clinginess. If your child does this, lean in to it and give alllll the extra snuggles you can stand.

Sometimes children will do the opposite as well -- outright ignoring you and refusing all physical contact for a while. If your child does this, be as patient as you can.

He is no doubt saying, “I missed you and I am upset about being apart.” His feelings are legitimate and you can acknowledge them while being patient.

Let Go of What You Cannot Control

Finally, you didn’t tell me in your email what your relationship is like with your son’s dad. Some separation/divorces end amicably and both work together to co-parent on the same page, even if they are living apart. Some have little contact with one another other than dropping off the child in one home or the other.

If your son’s dad is up for communicating about this issue, I would recommend that he do the same on his end. Cultivate his environment for consistency and offer some kind of visual schedule.

Note that his routine and environment do not have to match in order for your child to feel secure in both spaces. If he is up for keeping toothbrushing before bedtime just like you do, that’s great -- but it’s not your job to enforce it because it will be impossible for you to do so. Let it go, and if you need outside support, such as family counseling, please seek it out.

Children have the amazing ability to code-switch behaviors and understand expectations in different situations and environments. So don’t fret about a different routine or even different parenting strategies, although they may not be what you know in your heart is best -- just make sure that YOURS is as consistent and loving as possible.

Love,
Aubrey

P.S. I asked my Montessori facebook community what they would add, and I got this lovely response from a mom who is dealing with a similar situation as you but from a different perspective - as a stepmom of a blended family. Read her loving, gentle advice below.

As a stepmom in a blended family situation (2 SDs, 2 of ours), this whole transition is soooo hard. Sometimes it feels completely impossible. For me, and for the kids. It feels lonely and frustrating and always one step forward, one step back.

My advice?

1) Give yourself, your partner, your kids, and everyone else a ton of grace. It’s just hard and it’s hard for everyone.

2) Stay consistent. While you may need to be more patient and tolerant, your own kids don’t need to experience any more chaos than a transition naturally brings, and the traveling kids will learn to adjust. Visual schedules, repeated retracting, and gentle explanations will work over time.

3) Cuddle. Cuddle, cuddle, cuddle. Traveling kids will need a physical connection and full time kids will need a reminder that you’re still there.

4) Breathe. Find a support group. Connect with other people who are trying to do it too. And if the Montessori thing seems insurmountable, focus on practical life and small things until you find a balance. Your best is good enough.

Also, I think it’s worth saying that Montessori is about doing your BEST, not about being perfect. Read about who she was, who her children and students were...it’s about providing an environment full of love and intention, not about posting pictures and competing with other families. It’s about connection and truth. ❤️
— Laura, mom of four

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Skip the Kid Calendar and Lean In to Heart-Centered Time
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24 hours in a day. 

7 days in a week. 

52 weeks in a year. 

18 years in a "childhood". 

Add another 6 to 10 to become a fully formed adult being. 

As adults, we are comforted by these facts, beholden to them, and bound by them - sometimes uncomfortably so. And we want our children to understand the concept of time as we understand and live by it ourselves. 

We give them visual schedules, child friendly calendars, set timers, and try to teach them how to tell how time with analog clocks. We reasonably want them to understand that tomorrow is the day the grandma comes but not until next week is the annual family BBQ. 

Our children walk through life sometimes frustrated and bewildered as we respond, in their view, so often arbitrariliy. At 7:30am we eat breakfast, 11:00ish we lunch, and it isn't time for dinner yet, honey - we have another few hours to go. The child setting the table "too early" is rightfully offended!

On the playground, how often do I hear these words: "You can play for 5 more minutes, ok?" The tears come anyway, no matter how many more "5 minute warnings" are given. 

We think to ourselves, it would just be so much simpler if they could understand how long it takes to load the car and drive home. That five minutes is meaningful to us. It's just that it's completely meaningless to a child.

Today, I'd like for you to put aside your planner for a moment and imagine what time feels like to your child. Imagine a day that starts with the sun rising and ends with night falling with no schedules in between, just inclinations to move one's energy in a certain way. 

If you're among one of the many, many parents who are trying to teach the concept of time to your two or three or four-year-old - or even if you are proud that your young child has mastered "telling time" through practice, I have to tell you this. 

The concept of time as you know it is inherently inaccessible to children. 

In toddlerhood, just knowing that there is a past and a present and a future is enough. We don't need to practice this concept in any formal way either - just having natural conversations about what happened yesterday, what we might do today and what may happen tomorrow is enough. 

In the preschool years, clocks are fascinating mathematically, and so, for that matter, are reglular calendars. We can count the seconds and the minutes. We can model for them how we notice the hour and then count by fives to get to the minute hand. 

We don't need to drill them until they can tell time and point to it constantly. It won't make them get dressed and get in the car any faster, and nor will it make them brush their teeth.

It seems like your elementary child should be able to manage their time, but guess what? The concept of time is still fuzzy at this age! Hours pass without much awareness, and to-do lists are great, but the schedule flops without an adult intervening and reminding (often!).

Teenagers are more capable, but yet again, are our expectations in check? Maria Montessori believed that teens should get a big break from pressure, from schedules, and from all academics in order to connect more with purposeful, hands-on work in the real world

This would give their bodies time to process all of the turbulence that comes with the immense physical growth and the heightened emotions. This is obviously not a time of life to expect time management to be in full swing either!

Come to think of it, maybe we are a bit too tied to the concept of time ourselves as adults

When was the last time you lost track and played for hours as the sun went down? 

If you can't remember, it's been way too long and you need to reconnect with your childlike self - the one who doesn't care about the clock says and follows her heart instead.

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Ending the Neverending Bedtime Battles
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A letter…

“Hi, Aubrey! We are struggling at bedtime. My son’s bedtime routine is dinner, playtime, bath, and books. We read 5 books after bath and usually one story after.

I’m happy to stay with him after that until he falls asleep; he can be in my bed if he wants, but as soon as the story is over, he demands more, and if I say no he starts to be very loud waking his baby brother, he suddenly needs to get a drink, go to the toilet, or anything to make it longer.

Sometimes he runs back downstairs. I do not know how to reinforce the routine in a gentle and respectful way.

We tried letting him stay up in his room but he will stay up for hours, frequently coming back downstairs until I go back and read again. Then he is tired and miserable the next day. Any advice please? Thank you.”

- Teri, mama to 4 year old Teddy


I hear you, mama…

If only we could just create a consistent bedtime routine and be done with the battles! The age-old wisdom is correct: routines are important. You are already one step ahead by thinking through and implementing calming, consistent just-before-bed habits to help him wind-down.

Physically, you know that his body is prepped for sleep.

A full belly, an engaged mind, some warm, muscle-relaxing water therapy, and a good cuddle should do it. You’ve got the physical needs covered.

If anything, I’m wondering how long this routine takes. If you’re completely exhausted by the time “sleep” is supposed to be happening, consider shortening it or starting the whole thing a little bit earlier to allow for more flexibility (and emotional capacity) on your end.

Empathy and Exhaustion

I can tell by your descriptive words to me -- “I’m happy to stay with him” and “if he wants” that these are also empathetic words you use with him. Gentle, respectful parenting is important to you, and you work hard at it. I can also tell that you are feeling exasperated by the time bedtime rolls around.

The words “demands” and “miserable” speak volumes, even though you are talking about your child and not yourself. These are not easy times!

Empathetic as you are, emotionally, your child is obviously still struggling internally, and it likely has nothing to do with what you are or are not doing. This one is not on you.

Developmental Changes

Four-year-olds are going through a pretty big developmental transformation that can greatly interfere with sleep. While they can, if they choose, be quite amicable, they are also prone to engaging in power struggles, even when you are giving them no real “reason” for one.

New fears often emerge at this age - of scary noises in the dark, worrying about being lost or alone, thinking about what would happen to him if you died, the uncomfortableness of the transition from awake to asleep.

What if a terrible event occurred while he was helplessly asleep, or even worse...what if something amazingly exciting happened and he wasn’t awake to witness it?

Friendships are especially exciting and anxiety-inducing at this age as well. If he couldn’t figure out how to properly join a game of tag at the park the other day or had a disagreement with a good friend, it may take a little while for him to sort out his feelings.

These thoughts are often swimming around inside the typical four year old’s head, and it’s new and different for him. None of this entered his consciousness last year at all!

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Finding Solutions

Because four-year-olds are good at communicating the lack of desire to go to bed but not actually so good at communicating those deeper worries, you will need to be a detective. How are you to know what’s actually bugging him just before bedtime? You can’t see into his mind, and you may never know exactly what the issue is. Chances are good that it will resolve itself as he processes and adjusts.

Don’t go changing up his routine again too much. You’ve got the basis already, and consistency is still important at this age. I wonder if you might be able to have some heart-to-heart discussions with him about why bedtime is so hard right now. I’d recommend that you do it during the day and not in the middle of a bedtime battle.

See if the two of you can find some time to talk about the problem. If you do, you should make sure you are not in a chastising type of mood. This is not a lecture. For some children, it works best if you are deep in a snuggle after reading a story - whether on your couch under a blanket or in your bed. For other children, it could work best while their hands are engaged in an activity they love and find comforting, such as playing with legos.

You really want him to open up and talk to you and help you find a solution. “I am concerned about how bedtime is going recently. I’ve noticed that sometimes you have a hard time getting to sleep, even when I lay with you. We read our stories, and then it seems like you’re getting up a lot. Will you talk to me about that? You used to go right to sleep. What’s going on at night?”

He doesn’t have to answer you verbally. He may be answering inside his head, and if there is silence after a bit of wait-time, you should move on to possible solutions.

First, remind him of the rules (four-year-olds are absolutely still comforted by family policies and consistent boundaries). “Our family rule is that after 5 stories, we go to sleep. What can we do to help you do that?”

You can also offer some child-friendly suggestions, such as…

  1. You could choose a stuffed animal to cuddle with us.

  2. We can stop after 3 stories and go to the toilet one more time and then read the other 2.

  3. We can put a water bottle next to the bed so we can drink some water.

Either way, with enough love and patience, you can get these bedtime battles and your responses to them under control with the gentle, respectful way you are aspiring for.

Love,
Aubrey

 
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You can find more effective strategies to tame tantrums, overcome challenges, and help your child grow in my book, Toddler Discipline for Every Age and Stage.