Future Reflections  Winter/Spring 2007

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Patterns of Behavior

by Carla McQuillan

Editor’s Note: Carla McQuillan’s list of credentials and accomplishments as an educator is long and impressive. She is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association in Salem, Oregon, and she operates three private school facilities. In addition, the association hosts an annual professional Montessori conference, at which McQuillan has presented many workshops and a keynote address. Blind herself, McQuillan has a particular passion for sharing her knowledge with parents of blind children. Here is what she has to say about patterns of behavior in very young children:

Carla McQuillanIf we understand that a child works to perfect the adult she or he will become, then we must look at the patterns of behavior that emerge in childhood as indicators of the adult personality. This perspective requires that we consider more seriously the impact that the child’s environment will have on the developing young mind and spirit.

Children two to six years of age are attempting to understand the ways of the world. Everything is foreign and new to them. They must, therefore, process information by sorting and categorizing details as they construct their perception of the world. In essence, every interaction and communication is processed by the child and given some meaning. The child looks for repetition in order to confirm general knowledge.

This is particularly important when considering the parents’ interactions with their blind child. Rather than providing opportunities for the child to try to integrate itself into the environment, the parent attempts to serve as the primary link between the blind child and the sighted world. This is understandable, as it is the wish of every parent to help their child in a smooth, easy transition into society. However, this is often magnified in the case of a blind child. It causes the child to become dependent on another individual to make connections for him that, ultimately, he should be making for himself.

For example, a three-year-old blind child is playing with a favorite toy. The child sets it down and then later wishes to play with that toy again. Rather than expecting the child to use blindness skills to search for the toy, the parent readily retrieves it and puts it back in the child’s hand. For a young child, who has no prior knowledge or value system, the child comes to believe that what she absorbs from the environment is true and culturally acceptable. Imagine this child as an adult: she has developed the perception that she is not responsible for keeping track of her possessions. After all, when she needs or wants something, there is always a sighted person to bring it to her.

Most adults do not realize the significance of their day-to-day interactions with young children. We tend to view things in the moment rather than evaluating the long-term effects of our words and actions.

Take, for example, the three-year-old who asks mom for a cookie. The mother says calmly, “No, it’s too close to dinner.” The child begs and pleads saying he’s hungry, he needs a cookie, he wants a cookie, can he just have one, he promises he’ll eat dinner, etc. After several negative responses from the mother, she becomes weary of the pleading and finally gives in to the child’s demands. “All right, just one, and then I don’t want to hear another word out of you.”

Consider the lesson the three year old has learned:
· No doesn’t always mean no.
· If I whine and beg, I am likely to eventually get what I want.
· If I persist and can evoke emotional responses in my mom, I can control her behaviors.

None of these are lessons that the mother intended to teach. She agreed to comply with the child’s wishes out of frustration and convenience. Much of our behaviors as adults are influenced by our emotions and what is in our best interest for the moment. We need to take a closer look at what characteristics we ultimately wish to develop in our children and conscientiously act accordingly.

Start by making a list of all the traits and characteristics that you would like your child to develop and possess as an adult. If you are like most people, your list includes such attributes as: responsible, organized, compassionate, respectful, considerate, confident, etc.

Next, carefully evaluate the way that your child behaves and interacts with you and others. Ask yourself if you are encouraging the characteristics that you desire or if you are facilitating the development of less positive patterns of behavior.

Our children behave precisely as we have trained them. It is our responsibility to help them develop positive patterns of behavior that will enable them to be competent, capable, contributing members of our society when they reach adulthood.

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