Montessori Monday: Just scrub it!

Coco is a newly-minted four-year-old. As such, she does many four-year-old things, like ballet class, and dressing herself, and refusing to wear a barrette. On some of these occasions, she becomes grumpy and oppositional. What I've learned, in my few short weeks of being mama to a four-year-old girl, is that the battles are plenty and choosing them is key.

To that end, Coco can wear whatever she wants - if she dresses herself. :) (More on this in a later post!) She can also have an afternoon at home without a barrette. Yes, it drives me nuts to see her with her hair hanging in her face, but it's not worth the battle. One afternoon last week, without thinking, I approached Coco and tried, unsuccessfully, to get those bangs pinched nicely back from her face, and into a barrette. She pulled back, she protested, she got angry, and I could tell it was only going to get worse. I tried distracting her with a drink of water, or playing with some toys.

None of it was working.

So I grabbed a scrubby brush, squirted some soap on it and announced, "Well, I am going to scrub the pirate ship!" and without another word, quickly went out the back door.

She followed me!

Montessori children do lots and lots of scrubbing. There is a whole sequence involving a table that progresses (of course!) from simple to complex. It begins with Dusting a Table, goes on to Washing a Table and finally, Waxing a Table. The aim is not so much to clean the tables of the classroom (although they do get clean) as it is to engage the child in a series of actions that follow a sequence. 

Following a sequence requires concentration, thinking of what comes next and preparation. It leads to problem solving and dynamic thinking. All of these things lead to a phenomenon Montessori called "Normalization." It sounds horrible, like something out of a psychological reprogramming lab, but really, it's the idea that the normal qualities of a child emerge through "purposeful work done with the hand, and accompanied by concentration" and abnormal behavior and qualities, like tantrums and being contrary, slip away.

A few scrubs into my pirate ship cleaning and Coco announced that she wanted to do it. I got a bucket of warm water, another squirt of (ridiculously good-smelling and environmentally-friendly dish soap) and she was busy for the next TWENTY minutes. When she was finished, she was right back to her happy self. When all else fails, just scrub it! I did a super fun Hyperlapse (6x faster than normal) video of the action. Take a peek!

What are your go-to ways to steer your child around a tantrum? I would love more tricks up my sleeve because, as we all know, the toddler/preschool years are tough!


  1. Your daughter sounds just like my 4 year old! I definitely find that letting my daughter have choices helps give her a sense of independence and chases away the tantrums. On my end too, sometimes I find if I give in and play with her even if I'm super busy, she'll be so happy after 5 minutes, that that was all she needed. It makes everyone happier than my saying, "Not now"

    Analog House

    1. Oh, yes! It's easy to forget that they need to feel our focus and love through undivided attention. Good one!! xo

  2. My approach, after reading a lot from Janet Lansbury, is to actually *not* try to steer my son around the tantrum. I stay with him and just let his feelings be, possibly voicing with calm and empathy what he seems to be upset about (unless there's so much screaming I can't even hear myself, then I'm just silent).

    It's uncomfortable at times, but it never fails: after only a little while it's like a switch is turned off and he's back to his lovely, cheerful self.

    Janet Lansbury is my parenting hero. If you've never heard of her, her blog and ebooks are really worth a read!

    1. Oh, Clotilde, you're so right! I love Janet Lansbury's work so much. I have both of her books. In a way, I guess this was less of a tantrum and more of Coco just fighting with me; arguing and opposing. But, after reading your comment quickly on my phone, it did help me through a few of her little spells before dinner. Good reminder. Thank you! xx

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