montessori mealtime with toddlers. child eating independently

NAMC Tutors often receive questions from students about setting limits for children, like this one from a student in our Infant/Toddler Diploma Program .

montessori mealtime with toddlers.question for tutors.

It’s not too early and they aren’t too young to understand limits

Have you ever gone someplace new and weren’t exactly sure what the expectations were? Maybe you have gone to a country where you don’t speak the language and don’t understand what is going on around you. How did you communicate your needs or ask questions? A young toddler finds themself in very much the same situation. Unable to communicate clearly, they test limits through behavior. They aren’t being willful or naughty; they want to know the rules. And when introduced to rules, they want to test them to see which ones are set in stone and which have some wiggle room. They are figuring out that sometimes rules apply in one instance and not another. The only way to know for sure is to test them.

In previous articles, we have discussed how to set limits with positive statements. But how do we know when we need to set limits? Dr. Jane Nelsen, counsellor and co-founder of the Positive Discipline Association, suggests that we imagine our child at 25 years old and ask if the behavior we are reinforcing today is preparing the child to be the adult we imagine. If the answer is no, it’s time to “take time for training.”

montessori mealtime with toddlers. family mealtime.

If a child is old enough to sit at the table, they are old enough to learn the social rules of eating. For them to be successful at this task, they need to know what our expectations are — and we need to take the time to teach these expectations to them. It is not too early to say, “When it's time to eat, we sit at the table.” When they get up to wander, remove the food from the table and restate the expectation: “It's okay to get up, but when it's time to eat, we sit at the table.” If they fuss, simply repeat the statement: “When it's time to eat, we sit at the table.” They will test your limits because, remember, they want to know the rules. In a kind, gentle, but firm way, repeat the same message: “When it's time to eat, we sit at the table.” They will soon figure out that if they are hungry, they need to sit at the table.

‘To let the child do as he likes,’ when he has not yet developed any powers of control, is to betray the idea of freedom.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 205.

It is important is to use kind, firm language consistently. When children are learning, there can be very few exceptions. You cannot say that it’s okay to wander around while eating at home, and then expect your child to sit quietly in a chair in a restaurant or at grandma’s house. Set clear, consistent expectations and be sure to follow through. If you say, “When it’s time to eat, we sit at the table” but don’t remove the food, your child will learn that there is no follow through and, therefore, the rules can be broken. Providing children with clear limits in a consistent manner helps them understand what is expected of them and ultimately, sets them up for success.

Works Cited
Gfroerer, Dr. Kelly and Dr. Jane Nelsen. Positive Discipline. “Take Time for Training: A 3-Step Process.” Dec. 8, 2019.

Michelle Zanavich — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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