The Absorbent Mind, p. 195.
The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 18: Character and Its Defects in Childhood
In today’s era of political correctness, to use the term ‘defect’ with children seems harsh and out of place. We think of things being defective, not people. Etymologically speaking, the term defect means a failure or falling away (desertion) rather than in reference to something being broken. When looked at in that respect, we can read Chapter 18 less defensively. In this case, the defects in character do not stem not from the child but from the behavior of the adults in the child’s life.
Montessori grouped character defects in children into two categories: characteristics shown by children with strong wills “who resist and overcome the obstacles they meet,” (Montessori, p. 197) and characteristics shown by children with weak wills “who succumb to unfavorable conditions.” (Montessori, p. 197)
- Tend towards violence
- Temper tantrums/fits of rage
- Inability to concentrate
- Poor eye-hand coordination
- Tease others
- Easily bored
- Need to been entertained
- Easily frightened
- Poor appetite/digestive troubles
- Poor sleep habits/nightmares
Dr. Montessori strongly believed that “every defect of character is due to some wrong treatment sustained by the child during his early years.” (Montessori, p. 199) Whether neglected or coddled, left entirely alone or having everything done for them, the child acts and reacts according to the treatment he receives by adults who are often well meaning.
Based on observations in her own schools, Montessori learned that when children were given the freedom to actively experience their environment, their character defects all but disappeared.
When the children had work that appealed to their real interests and that actively occupying their minds, they no longer acted out. “The disorderly became orderly, the passive became active, and the troublesome disturbing child became a help in the classroom.” (Montessori, p. 199)
Montessori cautioned that neither punishment nor undeserved kindness would help the child develop a strong character. The key, she advised parents, is to engage the child’s mind by giving them something useful to do. Children don’t need more toys. They need real and interesting work that prepares them to become independent and less reliant on their parents. It is in the very nature of the child to grow and become a fully functioning member of the community.
Montessori also told parents to allow the child to work uninterrupted — to refrain from helping and allow the child to learn on his own. Adults should not use threats and punishment; they should consistently model the behavior they want children to demonstrate. In short, “One does not need to threaten or cajole, but only to ‘normalize the conditions’ under which the child lives.” (Montessori, p. 200)
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.