Thursday, October 07, 2010

Montessori Toddlers Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Dealing With a Tantrum the Montessori Way

This year long series looks at the experiences of teachers, parents, students, and Montessori education itself, as we follow a student through his first year at a Montessori Preschool. The Montessori Insights and Reflections of a Preschool Student’s First Year is a collection of useful stories, tips, and information that has arisen from one real student's Montessori journey, viewed through the eyes of his Montessori Teacher, Bree Von Nes.

NAMC montessori way dealing with tantrums toddlers not yet peaceful

Toddlers Who are Not Yet Peaceful

Toddlers and tantrums tend to go hand in hand, and it is important to remember that this phase will pass. A temper tantrum is usually a result of the child not being able to effectively express himself verbally, which leads to intense frustration.

I have had young Montessori students over the years who battle with temper tantrums; it can be a helpless feeling for the Montessori teacher at times, especially when you feel like you have tried everything! I have found that the more consistent you can be, the quicker the phase passes.

It is vital to figure out what works for the individual child. Here are a few examples to give you some further insight into different situations and how they may be handled by the Montessori teacher.

Montessori Toddlers Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Dealing With a Tantrum the Montessori Way

NAMC montessori way dealing with tantrums toddlers not yet peaceful

As is often suggested for positive discipline, offering limited choices in a positive way can be effective. One little girl falls apart if someone looks at her the wrong way but she settles right down if she is able to regroup in the reading corner with a book and the reading teddy. A little boy falls to the floor every time he is reminded to tuck in his chair or roll up his mat, however, the quieter I say it, the better he responds. If I speak to him in almost a whisper, he is more than happy to go back and tuck his chair or roll his mat - I think he feels less threatened when the request is made in a very subtle, soft manner.

It is important not to “buy into” the tantrum… a little boy who just turned three throws a fit constantly, no matter how you phrase your request … he crosses his arms, stomps his feet and makes a noisy huff over and over again. For this young student, it works to look him in the eye, acknowledge that he is feeling frustrated and give him the choice of talking to me with his words or taking a few minutes to calm down by sitting in his cubby. He almost always chooses to sit in his cubby and when he feels ready, we then talk about the situation and I help him deal with whatever it is that is upsetting him. That few minutes to regroup are huge for him!

Temper tantrums are usually dramatic, intense and full of emotion. With a calm demeanor, patience and persistence, you can almost always help diffuse the drama of a temper tantrum and change the situation to a calm, quiet discussion. It is important to stay calm, keep control and maintain peace.

A few strategies that I implement in my Montessori preschool classroom are as follows. Please remember, it is vital to choose a strategy that is in tune with the child’s individual personality and needs:

  • Maintain a consistent routine ... the more predictable your routine is, the easier it is for a child who is prone to temper tantrums.
  • Provide a warning before transitions. I have two little girls who really struggle with transition times, so I always give them a quiet warning several minutes ahead of time and it works beautifully. For example, “I am going to turn the music on in five minutes for clean up time, so you have five more minutes to continue working.” If I forget the warning, they fall apart!
  • Observe and be in tune with escalating frustration levels ... intervene before the tantrum occurs.
  • Offer choices so that the child feels he has some control over the situation. Keep the choices limited to accomplishing the task at hand. For example, “Would you like to put your coat on yourself or would you like some help?” or, “It is time to tidy up. Would you like to roll up the floor mat or would you like to put the puzzle on the shelf?”
  • Distractions and redirections work wonders with little ones.
  • Try to avoid the word, ‘no’ as it adds to a toddler’s frustration. Instead, use phrases like ‘later’ or ‘after lunch’.
  • Be aware of stressors that may require extra empathy (toilet training, starting daycare, etc). A little empathy goes a long way when a child is feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
  • Say something positive before making your request of the child, and make the request almost a challenge: “Johnnie, you worked so hard today with the Pink Tower, but I see that your mat is still on the floor. Let’s see how tight you can roll it” or “Marisa, you remembered to put your pouring work away, but I see your chair needs to be pushed in. Let’s see how quietly you can do it.”
  • Respect and acknowledge the child’s feelings, “I know you are feeling angry………, That must have made you feel really sad when…….” When children receive verbal assurance that their feelings are important and acknowledged, they gradually learn to put those feelings into words instead of acting out.

Most children do grow out of the need for tantrums when they have more language skills and understanding. But the way you deal with them in the toddler years is important. If they are handled harshly, or if you constantly ignore a child’s feelings and need for comfort, they may well become worse and carry on for a much longer period of time.

A great reading resource for all Montessori educators is “Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful”, by Donna Goertz.

Related NAMC blogs:

The NAMC Infant/Toddler (0-3) Classroom Guide also provides tips and tools for curriculum preparation, classroom management, communicating with young children, and more.

Bree — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, October 7, 2010.


  1. thank you for this helpful article!


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