“Help me do it myself.” – This is a famous quote by Maria Montessori. Her approach was to help the children JUST as much as needed for them in order to then do most of it themselves. Which is the fine line between doing things FOR them and forcing them to do things completely on their own. Again – it takes patience, careful observation and communication with the toddler. All of which are strong pillars of the RIE philosophy too.
This post is the third and last in our series of diaper changes. But it is also about (un)dressing in general. Because with a toddler this goes along the same lines.
When changing a toddler we are facing a whole new challenge – the strong aim for independence. More and more often we hear „Me! me!“ or „Alone!“. Quite often he wants to be bigger than he is. And more independent. It is our task to support this. Not more. But how ?
With a toddler we tend to change him wherever we are in the house right now. The changing table might be too small or too dangerous now. And in the end the child can stand just anywhere while being changed. But having a clear area helps us and the toddler focus on what is going on NOW. What we are here to do together – get changed.
This area can now be on the floor, maybe with a little cushion for the child to sit on while he tries to put his trousers on. And we sit or kneel down with him. To still be able to look him in the eye. To be at his height and connect.
A little corner is ideal because there WILL be times when he tries to run off. But at the same time trust the child to stay. In the end – he will know that this time there is not just about the diaper or the pyjama. It‘s about you and him.
Observe more. Do less.
It can‘t be repeated often enough what Magda Gerber used to say.
From careful observation we see what our child is capable of. And what not. So when he tries and puts his arm through the sleeve of his jumper himself we may only hold the end of the sleeve so he can slide through easily. We might watch him put his jacket on all by himself. Bite our fingers and watch him struggle. A bit. And we are there as soon as he gets stuck and finally when he needs it zipped up. We offer help. And accept a „No.“
We also wait for the child to ask for help. We encourage without enforcement. We allow without expectations. We acknowledge without praise.
Walking this fine line takes the relationship with our child a step further. While silently moving away from doing everything for your child we are moving closer in trust and the security of „I see you can do this but I am still there when you need me.“
With a toddler communication comes to a whole new level.
Language has developed and becomes part of the play we mentioned in our previous post. Because the child can now name the car on his shirt or the mouse on his sock. And he will happily do so. He will ask what this is your hair is tied with or what is dangling from your ear. He will wonder why your hair is wet and will zip your hoodie up and down and up and down once he figured how these things work. Again – we join in. We talk and have fun.
This is connection and bonding too. A conversation at the changing table.
But this communication is fragile. And a fine line again. Between offering options and suggesting more than the child is capable of. We might ask „Can you take your diaper off yourself?“ and mean it as an offer to do it himself. But for a child who is not quite able to do so this is a question of „Can you or can‘t you?“. A question that shouldn‘t be raised because it lies within a child what he is able to. And what not. So instead we ask „Do you want to take your shirt off?“ And if the answer is „No.“ we go ahead and just do it. As usual.
Sometimes the child might ask for help although we know he is capable of taking the shoes off himself. This is where parents tend to start a fight. „No you do it. I know you can.“ Often the intention is well thought and they just want to „teach independence“. But there is no need for it. Independence will come when the child is ready for it. There is no need in pushing or even forcing him to do things he is asking us to do. In letting him sit there alone until he did it because we know he can. Instead we can simply say „I know you can do it but I see you are really tired. Of course I‘ll help you.“
Children grow up so fast. We know this and watch it with a laughing and a crying eye. So why do we often rush them into being big and independent? Why don‘t we enjoy being their servants every now and then? We don‘t mind making our colleague a cup of tea although we know he is able to do so himself, do we?
We are so afraid of having children who are too lazy or too dependent and helpless of caring for themselves that we push them too early into something they are simply not ready for. Let‘s not do this.
„Every unecessary help hinders the child‘s development.“ (Maria Montessori)
This is true too. And of course – in doing everything for your child when he is already ready to do it alone, without giving a chance to try we will be in the way and maybe even hinder our child‘s development. But first figure out what help is necessary and what is unecessary. Find this thin line in between. The string that is tied between no help and too much help. And dance on it in rhythm with your child.