Blog Entry #3, October 10, 2017

Conflict between parents.  Is it OK? 

Today we will take a brief look at an online review of University of Arizona researcher Olena Kopystynska’s work regarding conflict between parents and how it affects their children’s emotional security.  Kopystynska is a graduate student who studies conflict and conflict resolution, and she focused on constructive versus destructive styles of conflict management. 

So is conflict OK?  The bottom line, according to Kopystynska, is “conflict is okay as long as parents handle disagreements in a constructive way.”

Let’s look at how Kopystynska defines "constructive" and "destructive" conflict management.

Constructive conflict management:

  • “Calmness and respect, despite a difference in opinion”
  • “Conflict stays focused on one topic”
  • “Progression is made toward a resolution”

Destructive conflict management:

  • “Anger and resentment”
  • “The argument often strays off topic to things that may have happened in the past”

Kopystynska and her colleagues found that when even one parent handles conflict in a destructive way, the children can feel more emotionally insecure about their home life.  So rather than avoiding the inevitable disagreement, it's important that parents focus on constructive ways to disagree.

The take-away message:

‘“Not all conflict is bad—it’s about how you manage it,” Kopystynska said.  “Given that children are going to encounter conflict out there in the real world, exposure to some conflict can be beneficial.  However, it’s really how parents handle that conflict that sets the tone for how safe children feel, and may further promote similar conflict management behaviors for when children are confronted with conflict of their own.”’

Blog Entry #2, October 3, 2017


Welcome to Ithaca Montessori’s blog!  We are educators, parents, and allies of children, who are here to share and learn helpful, practical information to guide our everyday interactions with the young children in our lives.    

I came across this thought-provoking article a few weeks ago about saying “be careful!” to children, specifically as it relates to playing outdoors.  It’s a short piece and worth the time to read it, but I’ll go ahead and summarize here:  saying “be careful!” is an understandable knee-jerk reaction that many adults have to children’s choices during play; however, adults can use more specific details to help the children understand the risks and consider their actions.  Here’s an example: a child picks up a big stick in close proximity to other children.  The adult can shout, “Be careful!”  Or the adult can say, “Sticks need space.  ___________, look around you.  Do you have enough space to swing that big stick?”  Or “What’s your plan with that big stick?”  The difference in the language is striking.  

So while this article gives specific language around outdoor play, I wondered about all of the times I might say “be careful!” to a child engaged in other activities.  I only had to spend a day in a home environment with four children, ages 4 and younger, to become conscious of a myriad of other times that “be careful!” is my go-to phrase.  So here are some other specific examples that may be helpful to you, the reader.


Other language for children helping in the kitchen with meal prep or table setting or clean up:

“Don’t touch _____!  It’s hot!”

“Carry the plate/bowl/dish with two hands.”

“Set the glass down gently so it doesn’t break.”

“Carry one plate/bowl/dish at a time.”

“That cup of water is full. Hold it with two hands. Walk slowly.”


Children going up or down stairs:

“Hold onto the railing.” Or “put your hand on the railing.”

“Take the stairs slowly.”

“Look in the direction you are going.”


Children standing on step-stool to reach sink faucet:

“Keep both feet on the stool.”

“One person on the stool at a time.”

[Of course, we want to refrain from micro-managing the children in our care.  Hopefully we are also modeling the ways that we want them to interact with each other and their environment—i.e., holding the railing while taking the stairs and carrying plates with two hands.  We can also take the time to observe the children in our care to discern if their environment needs to be modified for them; for example: does the step-stool in the kitchen need to be replaced with one that is more sturdy or slip resistant?  Modeling and observing are hallmarks of a Montessori classroom—it’s what the Montessori guide (teacher) spends most of her/his time doing; and it may be helpful to delve into this topic in another blog post.] 

We are all learning.  Here are some questions I can ask myself: 

Instead of saying “be careful!” right now, what is a specific statement that I can say to this child?

What is the exact risk that I want the child to be aware of?  How can I say this in a concise way to the child?

Ithaca Montessori Blog Entry #1, September 26, 2017


Welcome to Ithaca Montessori’s blog!  We created this space to provide helpful, practical information for parents, caregivers, and other allies of children.  The topics we hope to cover will include language and situations experienced by children from about 2 years to 6 years old (because this age group corresponds to the age grouping of the children attending Ithaca Montessori).  We hope that each entry will provide some “food for thought.”  Moreover, we are all learning, and it is our hope that this blog will provoke introspection and discussion—we are happy to answer questions and take suggestions for topics for future entries. 

This week we will discuss sharing.  Maybe we’ve heard it, maybe we’ve said it—the command to “share!”—that is often repeated by adults to toddlers and preschoolers.  What does it mean to “share”?  Should “sharing” even be emphasized?

Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario in a home environment.  Two children are playing near one another and Child A comes to Child B and shows a strong interest in what Child B is playing with.  Maybe Child A even tries to take the toy away from Child B.  An adult intervenes and commands Child B to “share!” the toy with Child A.  Child B resists and expresses frustration and anger over being told to share the toy with which she was happily playing.  At this point, Child A is set up to feel entitled to take the toy from Child B.  And the adult, who values follow-through, then must somehow find a way to coax/demand/bribe/encourage Child B to hand over the toy.  The situation becomes infused with a question of “who’s in control?” felt by adults and children alike, and the children are dependent upon the intervening adults to enforce “sharing.”  What if there was a different way for the adults to interact with the children?  Could different language be used? 

As parents, caregivers, and allies of children, we want the children in our care to practice kindness, and “sharing” seems like an obvious demonstration of kindness.  However, what if we pause and think about the above situation from Child B’s perspective?  Imagine if, as an adult, you are doing something you love, like playing guitar or knitting or painting, and in the midst of your creative engagement with those materials, someone came up and tried to take your guitar/knitting needles/paintbrush away from you.  Not only that, but then another person actually demanded that you give that item to the person who was trying to take it from you.  How do you feel in that situation?  Frustrated?  Angry?  Powerless? 

Now let’s go back to the scenario with the children.  As an adult observer, pause and watch the two children for a moment.  Do they need help to negotiate their interaction?  Toddlers often play side-by-side and may “bump” into each other, and it’s at this moment that they then see what the other one is playing with and a feeling of possessiveness emerges. (A toddler’s frequent use of the word “mine!” aptly conveys her developmental stage.  That is to say, a toddler is working hard to form her sense of Self—thinking mainly about her needs and wants.) Preschoolers are at a different developmental stage and are typically more social, and therefore, they may attempt to negotiate who gets to play with the toy.  While we observe the situation, we can ask ourselves, how well do we know the two children?  Do we trust them to navigate the interaction without being a danger to each other or destructive to the toy?  Of course, as adults, we always want to intervene if we see children hurting one another or otherwise being destructive.  But outside of that imperative, we can give them space to negotiate; and, if needed, we can offer language to empower the children to respectfully negotiate and set boundaries.  For example, instead of “sharing”, what if we suggest “taking turns” with a toy?  When Child B is finished playing with the toy, then Child A can have a turn.  The adult uses language that supports Child B’s right to freely play with the toy while also acknowledging Child A’s desire to take the toy.  “_______ is playing with that right now.  You can have a turn when she is finished.  I know it’s hard to wait.  Would you like help finding something else to play with?”

Let's look at sharing in another way.  If you come to my house, I will share my chicken’s fresh eggs with you.  Or a clipping from one of my plants.  I will lend you a book or a sweater.  I will share my favorite coffee cup with you (hot, fresh coffee included!).  I will share with you because you are my guest and my friend.  When we think about sharing this way, we regain perspective on the kindness and hospitality that we imply when we say that word—“share!”—to children.  So as adults, we can also begin to help a child understand that when they have a friend over to play, they are, in fact, (unless the visiting child brings her own toys) sharing all of their toys with that friend.  The difference is that the sharing is happening by default but not on demand.  We can work behind the scenes, so to speak, before the visiting child arrives to explain how the hosting child is, in fact, sharing and how kind it is to share (by being hospitable). 

We can also empathize with the young child who has big emotions around seeing her toys played with by another child.  In the case of a toddler or a young preschooler, maybe we help put that child’s favorite toy away for the duration of another child’s visit.  We might say something like, “I know this _____ is special to you and sometimes it’s hard to see someone else play with it.  Would you like to put it away while so-and-so visits?” In this way, we are demonstrating empathy and kindness to a child who is not developmentally ready to share a special possession. 

We are all learning.  As an adult who cares for children, I can ask myself:

How am I helping this child maintain his/her right to freely play with an item? 

What language do the children need to respectfully negotiate with each other?

Am I imposing “sharing” or teaching authentic sharing by demonstrating hospitality and kindness?