Want to support your baby’s confidence and learning? Tips for skillful praise and impactful modeling
We know that modeling is one of the most effective ways we teach children. They are learning from our example whether we intend for them to or not! The profound ability that young children have to imitate exactly what they see is one aspect of what Dr. Maria Montessori called the Absorbent Mind.
The absorbent mind is “an intense and specialized sensitiveness in consequence of which the things about him awaken so much interest and so much enthusiasm that they become incorporated in his very existence. The child absorbs these impressions not with his mind but with life itself.”
Here are some helpful guidelines to keep in mind as you model this work for your child:
- Slow down. Move a lot slower than you would normally so they can really see what you are doing. Our little ones are taking in a lot of information, so it also takes them time to process all they are taking in.
- Approach the work with reverence. It may just be putting a circle puzzle piece in its correct place, but to them it is mind-blowing. Model total concentration on your work. Speak only in short words or sentences, if at all.
- Make your thoughts visible. Use your fingers to trace what you are noticing so that your child sees what you see. For example, let’s say you are working with the square and circle puzzles. First, take the pieces out. Then choose one piece, let’s say the square. Pick it up and look at it intently. Trace it with your fingers. Trace the circle inset. Maybe even hold the piece over the circle inset. Then trace the square inset and the square piece. Then slowly place the square piece in its correct spot.
- Model learning from mistakes. Make sure to model making a mistake in a casual way. Using the example above, maybe you take these same puzzles out a different day. Go through the steps, but put the puzzle piece in the wrong spot. React with curiosity. Look closer. Try again with no drama. This helps them be curious rather than devastated when they make mistakes themselves.
- You are a model! Remember you are modeling ALL the time. If you want your child to put their shoes in the cubby, put your shoes in your cubby. If you want them to carry their plate with both hands, carry your plate with both hands.
Praise with Purpose
It can be so exciting when your little one has a big success. As they take their first steps or begin to make big mental leaps we want to applaud them. Parents are often told that praise is good for their children - and certainly, we want to celebrate their victories.
What we want to aim for is skillful praise. When we simply tell a child “good job!” or “good boy!”, we can inadvertently decrease their confidence and steal from them their own pleasure at a job well done. This kind of praise can replace their inner pride for a deep longing for our positive attention and external validation. Here are some things to think about as you give your child lots of skillful praise.
- Wait for them to come to you showing you what they have done. If they don’t show you they are not asking for your input! If you happen to be sitting right near them, wait for their attention to shift from their work back to you.
- Use descriptions to show you really see what they have done, give them information about what they did well and let them build their own confidence. “You made those blocks balance!” or “You carried that whole basket down the hall!”
- You can always praise their effort, even if they didn’t “succeed”. “I see you trying lots of ways to put your shoe on!”
- Refrain from saying “good girl/boy!” We don’t want to tie their sense of goodness to their perceived success or their ability to please others.
This post was written by Olynda Smith, AMS Certified Montessori Primary teacher.