I can ‘Montessori’ many aspects of my life. I can provide a place in my home for my children to get their own snacks and drinks independently. I can help prepare my children’s rooms so they can pick out clothes and dress themselves independently. I can provide an organizational system so all their toys, books, and games have a place so they can play and clean up independently. But when the fear of the unknown overrode my Montessorian ways, I felt paralyzed.
Corson, my toddler, was diagnosed with a genetic disorder of Ocular Albansim at the age of six months old. It is often described as opporating with a broken camera- the lenses can’t be fixed, the machinery in the camera is broken, and the pictures are distorted. Now at the age of 2, her specialists ordered to sets of procedures to be done under anesthesia, an MRI to scan her brain for any other possible reasons for these observable issues with her eyesight and an ERG which takes detailed scans and images of her eyes for confirmation and monitoring purposes. Both procedures needed her to be completly still and we all know that it is nearly impossible to keep a toddler just ‘relatively still’, so anesthesia was required.
I am not a doctor. I am a teacher. And before that, I am a parent. I didn’t know the ins and outs of the procedures. I don’t know the instruments used. I didn’t know the terminology. But I did know that I was scared, I was nervous and that the unknown was terrifying. And if I was having those feelings as an educated experienced adult, my two year old daughter would probably also experience those same feelings about the unknown and strangers and instruments and the procedure as a whole.
So, I ‘Montessoried’ the experience.
We prepared the environment.
We respected her as a person who deserved information.
We gave her clear and honest commentary.
We did prep in the days before, “We are driving to Miami in a few days. We are going to see the doctors. They want to take pictures of your eyes. They will help you fall asleep and when they finish taking pictures, we will come back home.” We found a video/ animation created by doctors and educators that explained an MRI and we watched it as a family with our older son. We didn’t place emotions on top of any of the information. Just facts. Not too many facts, just the right amount of facts for her to comprehend. It wasn’t like she thought we were getting in the car for ice cream and instead got a sedative. We ‘prepared the environment’ (laid a foundation) by explaining the situation beforehand and not springing this event on her.
We then acknowledged Corson as the patient. Of course, the nurses and doctors and employees of the hospital spoke to us, we are her legal guardians. We need to know the information about what is going on but the patient also deserves to know, even if she is only Two-years-old. When we learned what was happening next, we spoke directly to Corson because she deserved to be included in the process. It is amazing how much a child will comply and participate when they are informed and respected for exactly who they are- a human being.
Finally, and perhaps the most important part in the process, we described the surroundings. We described the jobs of the people she was coming into contact with, we let her know what would happen to her body as the procedure was starting and what it would be like when the procedure would end. As adults who have spent a lifetime hearing stories and having experience, we know that doctors are people who heal, they have instruments that heal, and that hospitals are meant to heal. A toddler usually does not have that same information and experience. They see strangers in uniforms coming and going, who touch their bodies in rooms full of large and scary instruments and machines that make loud noises. It was our job to provide her factual and clear information about the experience without attaching feelings. We said phrases such as, “This is a doctor. She is here to keep you safe. She will give you medicine to help you fall asleep.” and, “This is the bed that you will lay on to fall asleep. The machines are here to help your body. This machine is making a beeping noise. Listen. Beep, beep, beep.” And although the following information made my heart ache for her, she needed to know, “The medicine will make your body feel tired. When you wake up, the doctors will be here to help you and check on your body. The doctors will keep you safe and Mommy and Daddy will come back when they doctors say you are done.”
I was scared, but I chose not to tell her that. We chose to be as calm as possible, as real as possible, as respectful as possible. And she responded with strength that we didn’t realize she had in her. She was quiet. She was calm. She was curious. She felt involved. She did not tantrum, she did not refuse, she did not cry. We had successfully ‘Montessoried’ the MRI.
When it came time for the next trip to Miami and another bout of anesthesia, we did it all again. We followed the same guidelines and you could see the surprised reactions of the staff and nurses and doctors as Corson, responded and participated and calmly went along with each step. The second time, there was a twist. Corson needed her eyes to be patched, both eyes, for an hour before the procedure even started. We had not been told of this extra step, so we had not prepped Corson. But you make plans and the real world shows up and then you adjust. So we told Corson that it was about to happen and as the more patches were added and the darkeness surrounded her, the nerves started to overcome her and she began crying. “It is dark with patches on your eyes. We are here. You cannot see us but we are still here. You are safe.” The tears did not stop. It was her breaking point and we needed to remember the tools- prepare and inform. My brain started racing. What does she need? What senses does she have right now? What can I do to help her find the calm again. I need to be calm and provide her with auditory input. I remembered that she uses the song, ‘Candle for Peace’ when she wants comfort. She sings it everyday in a safe place where she feels comfortable and secure- at school with her friends and guides. So I started singing and I didn’t stop. I sang that song over and over and over and over. I used observation and knowledge to adjust the plan and help bring her back to peace when she was having a hard time finding it on her own. She calmed. She quieted. Then she fell asleep.
In that singular moment- I felt relief for her and so much gratitude because without Montessori I wouldn’t have been aware enough, prepared enough, or skilled enough to have been able to give that gift to my child.
I not only needed to share this experience but felt compelled to share the experience because if I can help give real life examples of using these Montessori tools to others parents to help them help their children when they need it the most- that is success.
This theory can and should be applied to dally situations not just extreme ones. Going to the dentist, flying on an airplane, staying in a hotel. When a child cuts their leg or needs a haircut. Your children are capable human beings who can participate and can add value to any situation as long as we provide them the information.
Prepare the environment.
Respect your child.
Janet Lansbury and Magda Gerber are authors who write about Respectful Parenting ( RIE- Resources for Infant Educarers). Their philosophy goes hand in hand with Montessori and I highly recommend their work to help guide your interactions and your understanding of our youngest children and how we can help them along their own paths. Janetlansbury.com
“Sportscasters don’t judge, fix, shame, blame or get emotionally involved. They just keep children safe, observe, and state what they see affording children the open space they need to continue.”- Janet Lansbury
“When you approach your baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know what you intend to do and give him a chance to respond. You assume he is competent and involve him in his care.”- Magda Gerber
“Children are human beings to whom respect is due.” – Maria Montessori