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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

To alter child's behaviour, it is important to follow the child

If you have read the last month's blog on five levels of learning, you will understand that the school mainly helps the child in learning at a cognitive level ( Level 1 to 3). But some alternative schools, like Waldorf and Montessori, also help the child in developing the 'appropriate behaviours' by following the child.  Here is one example that happened in a Montessori.

In Montessori, adults ( or teachers) are taught to follow the child. This example of learning, described below, occurred at the dining table of a Montessori.


Two children, let us call them Neil and Saket, were eating their tiffin on the dining table. Neil had brought Sabudhana Khicdi , which Saket loves very much. Saket therefore asked for a tbsp of Khichdi to Neil. Neil refused. Saket asked the Montessori Adult to intervene. In such situations, Montessori adult takes a back seat and follows the child. So she asked Saket to directly request Neil. Saket again requested Neil for Khichdi. 

After sometime, Neil gave him a tbsp of khichdi. Saket ate it. But he asked for more. Saket was not eating his tiffin. He kept on looking at Neil's tiffin. He even tried once/twice to directly take the Khichdi from Neil's tiffin. Neil blocked Saket's hand. Saket continued to request, very emotionally. After sometime, Neil again gave him a tbsp of Khichdi. Saket ate it quickly and again asked for more. Then he waited for Neil to give him Khichdi. Neil again gave him a tbsp after some time. Again Saket ate and waited. This drama continued for 10-15 minutes. During this 10-15 minutes, Neil gave him 5-7 tbsp of Khichdi. Saket continued to ask for more but also waited. Neil, who normally does not finish his tiffin, ate his full tiffin that day. Saket waited until his Khichdi was over and then he opened his tiffin. 

What did Saket learn? First, he learnt to request for something which he wanted. Generally children do not learn this. When they want something, they grab it, pull it or cry when they do not get it. Saket avoided these three actions and continued to request in a very right tone. Two, Saket learnt to wait patiently for Neil until he gave. This is perhaps the most difficult habit to learn. Patience. Saket learnt to practice 'patience'. More than anything this habit determines the extent to which the 'potential' of a child unfolds.

What did Neil learn? First, he learnt to 'share'. Neil is an independent child when it comes to eating. He neither asks for any 'food item' from others, nor does he 'give' it to others. For the first time in 4 months, time he 'gave', even though it was little. Surprisingly, 3 days after the event, he brought in Khichdi and gave it to Saket without being requested. No amount of 'cajoling' would have helped Neil's behaviour to change to 'sharing'. Second, he also learnt that 'requesting' for some food item is OK. Next day, Neil asked for a 'cheese dosa' from another girl student. Neil had changed his behaviour.

Many parents want their children to change their child's behaviour, for instance, the habit of sharing, waiting for someone, or requesting before shouting. But they resort to wrong methods - instructing, cajoling, black-mailing, or exhorting. Parents do not know that they cannot change their child's behaviour just by 'instructing' the child. Parents can only 'enable' the conditions and hope that the child learns from it.

Unfortunately, parents are too biased to notice learning situations.  For instance, when i told the above example later to parents, many fathers and mothers said that they would have asked their child 'not to ask for any food item' ( like Saket did). They think that it is akin to begging. Some parents also said that they would have asked their child to 'share'.

Some parents have intuitive sense of what should be done in a situation. But most parents do not know how to enable such 'dense situations' that are ripe for learning. Such dense situations - where emotions and real events happen - are required for learning. Once the situation has been 'enabled', it is important to step back and not interfere in the learning process by letting the 'biases' interfere. In the above example, Montessori adult ( or teacher) watched the proceedings without making any comment. She just followed the children. She was careful to see that Saket did not 'put' his hand in the tiffin of Neil, for instance. Neither did she ask Saket to eat his own tiffin and not 'ask' for anything.

This is a paradox. If you want to change the child's behaviour, it is important to 'follow the child', instead of leading the child. Many parents want to inculcate the right 'culture' ( or what they call 'Sanskar' in marathi or Hindi) in their children, but they do not know how.  Instead of following the child, they constantly try to lead the child.

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