There is an old English nursery rhyme that says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” However, when I reflect back on times of pain or trauma in my life they were not due to physical distress, but to mental and emotional attacks. At times of emotional distress, I can remember such vivid details, including what I was wearing, doing, and thinking. And if I am not careful, I can get caught up in the negativity all over again.
Dr. Montessori understood how the mind stores and remembers the impressions that emotions leave behind and the impact this has on very young children.
“It is that both the impressions the child’s mind receives, and the emotional consequences they provoke, tend to remain permanently registered in it.” She likens the impact of emotions as leaving an imprint on the child like the “mark of on a photographic plate…which appears in every subsequent print.” (Montessori, p. 129)
Studying the Works of Montessori - The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 12: The Effect of Obstacles on Development
Positive interactions in childhood create well-balanced, mentally stable, happy children and adults. Montessori cautions us that “Always must our treatment be as gentle as possible, avoiding violence, for we easily fail to realize how violent and hard we are being.” (Montessori, p. 131)
It is likely that we have all been too hard on a child at one time or another. Even Montessori admits that she, herself, had at times been “too severe with a child.” (Montessori, p. 132) She tells us that the healthy response would be for a child to become angry and defensive, yet these sensitive, fragile beings often retreat into themselves. She cautions us again that “not anger and violence, but patience, marks this period in children’s lives; the patience to wait for the right moment.” (Montessori, p. 134)
It is our job as adults to be helpers and interpreters for young children. We must exercise infinite patience as they learn to communicate. Without interfering in their development, we are to support not only their mental and physical growth but also their emotional growth. With that in mind, we should keep in the forefront of our interactions with young children:
- 1. that the first two years of life affect all the rest
- 2. that the baby has great mental powers to which little attention has been given
- 3. that he is supremely sensitive and for that reason any kind of violence produces not only an immediate reaction but defects which may be permanent.” (Montessori, p. 135)
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, April 15, 2014.