I love that Montessori’s curriculum incorporates a strong focus on Grace and Courtesy (manners) as part of the Primary curriculum. It is so vital to implement strong ideals of Grace and Courtesy at a young age to help form lifelong habits and shape pleasant personalities. A child who has benefited from a strong emphasis on manners will need less discipline in other areas and will be a child that has an easier time engaging in other learning opportunities because they (and others!) will not be distracted by a lack of manners.
One vital aspect of Grace and Courtesy that often goes neglected is how to equip children to best handle others who are not displaying the Grace and Courtesy that they have been encouraged to learn. Ella’s hardest interactions are with children who are less (consistently) disciplined than her. She has a really hard time witnessing another child exhibit behaviours that she knows she should not display herself; interestingly, she’s more concerned with the rule- or taboo-breaking that the other child is engaging in, and does not seem to desire acting in a similar way. Often Ella expresses her frustration by a dirty look directed at the child (and sometimes, at the child’s parent) and coming to me only when she has become too upset to observe or interact with the child anymore.
While I love that my daughter is developing a strong moral code and that instances of rule breaking are abhorrent to her, the simple fact is that by not teaching her how to gracefully deal with other children’s misbehaviours, I have neglected a very important aspect of my daughter’s own “Grace and Courtesy.”
We’ve started working on scripts together, having discussions about what types of things we might observe in a playdate and how we could respond. I am trying to have these conversations on days where we don’t have any social interactions planned, and then simply remind Ella of the conversation and do a brief practice shortly before play dates. We tend to know which children will exhibit specific behaviours that our children will find difficult, so I cater that conversation to the child who will be over and what issues I might reasonably expect to arrive (teasing, roughness, etc). These reminder conversations are light and only intended to remind Ella of her script — they are not to remind her of past experiences or to label other children as problem-makers.
NOTE: I would never expect a child to try to deal with violence on his or her own, no matter how innocent. If a preschool to primary-aged child begins to make hitting gestures or actually hurts another child, I intervene immediately.
An initial script might be,
“Remember when X was over and he was being rough with your toys? How did that make you feel? I would feel the same way if my friend was hurting my toys. Do you think that next time a friend is hurting toys we could take a deep breath and say, ‘Please be gentle with my toys’? Can you try saying that? Do you think saying that might help? And if a friend doesn’t listen the first time, we can always say it again; let’s take a deep breath and say it again together. Perfect. I think your friend will want to be gentle and will try his best.”
At this age, I wouldn’t provide too many alternative steps — simply giving Ella a script that she can repeat twice is sufficient, and then if she successfully does that without solving the issue, it would be appropriate for an adult to then intervene. At a slightly older age, I would encourage the child to walk away or request help from an adult, but right now I want Ella to focus on expressing herself and giving her friends a second chance to cooperate.
A reminder script might be,
“Remember how we talked about saying, ‘Please be gentle with my toys’ if a friend is being rough? Can we practice that together? Great! We can always say it two times if a friend doesn’t listen the first time, can we take a deep breathe and practice saying it again?”
I don’t mention the upcoming playdate in the reminder script, nor do I mention a specific friend. The intention is not to brace Ella against an inevitable behaviour, but to remind her of her power and the specific words that she can use so they are fresh in her mind should the need to use them arise.
How are you instilling grace?