Model Your Expectations

If you want your child to be calm, you have to be calm. If you want your child to be respectful, you must be respectful to your child. Children repeat what they hear and what they see. They also absorb the same energy you put towards all of your actions and requests. You must model what you want to see in your child.

In the classroom, I strive to model exactly the same behavior that I expect to see the children exhibit. If I ask the children to eat only at the snack table, and to sit down to eat, then I must do the same. I can’t snack between lessons or eat standing up. It’s not good enough to say “You can’t do that, but I can, because I’m the teacher.” Young children usually don’t understand those words, and if they do, they are faced with a contradiction that doesn’t make sense. At best, it puts the adult in a position of an authoritarian rather than a model or a guide, which is not the position I want to be in.

It is a mistake to think that children “don’t notice” things that you do or say. In my experience, it’s safer to assume that children notice EVERYTHING. Montessori philosophy suggests that children (0 – 6 years of age) absorb everything in their environment, without consciousness, without exception, without bias, without selecting or making a choice. Whether good or bad, children absorb EVERYTHING. In my experience this is true.

Children naturally want to be involved in the adult’s world, and children naturally want to contribute and look to the adult to learn about the world around them. Whatever they see the adult do, they will also do. Whatever they hear the adult say, they will repeat those words.

If I react to the children in anger and with frustration, children will learn to follow that example in their interactions with others. Of course, I do get angry and frustrated, but I must make every effort to keep those emotions in check, and make a conscious decision to model a peaceful solution. This is not always easy to do, but understanding the child’s stage of development, and the child’s current understanding of the world, is critical to raising peaceful children. They need that model from us, if that’s what we want them to learn.

Saying “Good Job” to children is hurtful.


To add to yesterday’s post on Rewards and Punishment, I wanted to direct my readers to this blog that I have been reading recently. Here, the author talks at length about why this comment, and popular practice in American child-raising, among many others, actually are detrimental to optimal child development.

In my Montessori training, my classmates and I had several discussions about this, and I often found myself alone in agreeing with this approach. It was Dr. Maria Montessori’s stance, that saying such things as “Good Job” in response to a child’s work or actions, is a type of reward that teaches children to do work that meets your approval, and to increasingly seek that approval, instead of being given the tools and encouragement to learn how to self-evaluate.

But, it is very difficult to get away from these kinds of sayings. We grew up with it and we are surrounded by it. We are trained to believe that it is important for children to be given this kind of praise in order to succeed. We are trained to feel guilty, or at least indifferent or uncaring, if we don’t shower this praise on children. It sounds like a very cruel thing to do, to ask my assistant teachers and parents to “please don’t say “good job” like that to your children”. But, at the risk of losing potential business for the school, I do in fact, ask parents to please stop saying “Good Job” or “Be Careful” or “It’s Okay.”

I am typically met with great surprise and disbelief at such a suggestion. But, when given the chance to focus on the importance of teaching the child to be able to self-evaluate his or her own work and actions, many parents are at least willing to give it a chance. I can always tell the difference between children whose parents cooperate with this approach, and those who do not. It is a matter of habit for the child. In the same way that offering rewards and bribes in exchange for “good work” takes focus away from the work, saying “Good Job” to a child in response to “good work” does the same. If a child is constantly seeking approval from me, I know that child is not working from an inner desire to actually do great work. The child has already been trained to work for someone else’s approval, and it’s difficult to change such a strong habit. I will still refrain from ever saying “Good Job” – and I will still make every effort to get a child to tell me about the work that she is showing to me first, before I ever give any kind of comment or opinion. Unfortunately, the child will have an obstacle to overcome – “I wonder why the teacher doesn’t ever seem to like my work? She never says “Good Job”?”

If a child is focused on achieving that “Good Job” comment from a parent or teacher, the child is not really being trained to become aware of the quality of his or her work. Earning (or giving) such a comment tends to put a ceiling on achievement for the child. Working for a “Good Job” comment doesn’t take into account that there is a level of repetition involved to achieve mastery over a task or concept. If you have already said “Good Job”, the child tends to not work to achieve better. He’s already gotten your stamp of approval. If the child receives a “Good Job” comment and knows it is not good, you’ve damaged a strong sense of trust. If a child has done “good work” that can be made better, how can you say “Good Job” and then subsequently qualify it with “But…this can be better…” Is it good or not? That’s confusing!

I can also tell children who are not reliant on working for others’ approval. These are the children who chose work independently, concentrate on their work, and are able to put work away to take home, without necessarily having to show me the work first. These are the children who are comfortable to try new things confidently and without fear of making mistakes. These children are also comfortable to ask for help when they need it, and to adequately and honestly critique their own work, without fear of having weaknesses exposed. These are the children who continue to work to improve themselves until they are satisfied with their level of achievement. And the face of this kind of satisfaction is priceless. Who would not want that for their child?

So, is working on refraining from saying “Good Job” to your child worth it to you? If you don’t want to hurt your child’s self-esteem, it’s critical for them to have that chance to be the best they can be.

Punished by Rewards


This was one of the first books I read that started me on my journey away from the public school system, and towards finding some of the answers I was seeking.

In my orchestra classes, as I was looking for ways to motivate my students to do well, I commonly used extrinsic rewards such as earning prizes or pizza parties for getting enough practice time in during each week. This is what I learned from mentor teachers that I had to do. And, filling out weekly practice records was something I was required to do when I was a student in orchestra classes myself, so it made sense to me to do that same thing for my students. My parents did not closely monitor every minute of practice that I recorded, but at the same time, I knew they would not sign to verify that I had done an hour of practice every day, if I clearly did not.

However, I was learning very quickly that requiring my students to complete a weekly practice record was not functioning as I had intended. The purpose was to help create a habit of daily practice. I even dangled a treasure chest of toys to choose from, candy bars, or stickers as incentives to get those practice logs turned in, signed by parents, and with a minimum number of minutes per week.

In reality though, this requirement actually taught most children many undesirable lessons. First, since the number of minutes practiced does not take into account the quality or effectiveness of the practicing, requiring a minimum number of minutes practice per week does little to actually improve the child’s ability. The child, equally aware of this dilemma, tends to practice the “easy stuff” for an hour a day, or worse, simply fill in extra minutes – in order to earn those prizes.

Earning rewards motivated some students, but usually only those who were already practicing effectively anyway. Others participated for a week or two, and then interest faded and I had to come up with other “motivators”. Other children simply were not fooled, and didn’t ever bother to fill out or submit practice records. Earning a worse grade in the class as a result was also usually not motivation enough to practice more. (Because, earning a grade in a class is an extrinsic motivator in itself.)

Mostly, requiring practice logs and keeping up with the latest gimmicky rewards system, made a lot of work for me, with very little real results. Further, I was not teaching my students that being able to play the instrument well and make beautiful music is the reward for the effort that they put in.

Now, as a Montessori teacher, I do not have the job of coming up with incentives, bribes, or external motivators in order to motivate children. Most of the children who come to the classroom are naturally excited to learn and have a desire to achieve something. And my job is to keep that excitement and love of learning alive. I have learned that it is true that children are naturally motivated to explore and learn, and will learn from natural consequences of the decisions they make – good or bad ones. But, once children get into a habit of relying on bribes and rewards, it is a difficult habit to break, and a difficult task to help them rekindle that natural love for learning.

Unfortunately for some children, this habit is begun early in their lives and continues, and even worsens, throughout their school-aged years. It is important to change that path early, but even better, to avoid it altogether. This is the job of the parents and teachers, and it is one to be taken very seriously. If we are to raise a community of peaceful children, we need to avoid creating a mentality of “What’s in it for me?” Instead, we need to show children that a peaceful and pleasant environment is the result of cooperation, respect, and love.


Welcome to the Peaceful Childhood Education blog. I created this blog to share some insights from my teaching and parenting experiences, and to discuss with readers the many issues and themes relating to childhood development, parenting, and education.

My passion for starting this blog comes from many years of working with children, and sadly, seeing in many children a sort of “learned helplessness” combined with a general apathy for wanting to learn anything new. Many children did not seem to have acquired adequate critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, or conflict resolution skills. This did not seem normal or natural to me, and I struggled with each new year, and each new batch of children, to get many of them to realize their self-worth and true potential, and to simply want to learn something new. It seemed to be a trend that was worsening each year. What was happening? I knew there had to be something better. There must be better ways to help and guide these children. Whatever methods of education were in place, were clearly not working.

So, now I’m here to share my stories and observations, from past and present, and discuss with my readers, with hope that we can find better, more peaceful, and more inspiring ways to raise, educate and care for our children.