Simone Davies on How to Be a Calm Parent in Difficult Situations
For this episode, I sat down with Simone Davies, a Montessori educator who runs Jacaranda Tree Montessori in Amsterdam and founder of the online home The Montessori Notebook, which helps people apply Montessori principles in daily live through free articles, downloads, and e-courses. I love Simone’s perspective on education, parenting, and positive discipline, and I wanted to share her insight with listeners.
We talk about a number of different issues during our conversation, but the primary focus was on handling emotionally charged and difficult situations with our children, including when our child is having a tough time in public and all eyes are on us to respond “appropriately.” We talk about how difficult it is to stay emotionally detached and not let our own angry or frustrated energy add further fuel to the situation, and Simone shares some useful strategies for staying (mostly) calm and cool.
About Simone Davies
Simone Davies has over 10 years experience as an AMI-qualified Montessori teacher, working with both young children and their parents. Simone is a parent educator, runs Jacaranda Tree Montessori, a Montessori playground in Amsterdam for babies, toddies and preschoolers, and is the founder of The Montessori Notebook.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- What the Montessori philosophy entails
- Specific strategies for not absorbing your child’s energy during difficult moments and diffusing the situation instead
- An approach for handling public meltdowns
- How to practice empathy with a child
- The value in getting comfortable with big emotions
- Why making amends and taking responsibility works better than punishments
- How our thoughts about a child’s behavior can worsen a situation
Resources mentioned about how to be a calm parent
- Simone’s e-course Setting Up Your Home Montessori Style
- The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, by Ross W. Greene
- TiLT Parenting Podcast episode featuring Margaret Webb (Finding Peace in Parenting the Child You Didn’t Expect When You Were Expecting)
Simone Davies 00:00
I mean, also just stepping in and saying, I can see that you’re not coping and if you had to stay in that room with other people, just by you being very calm and modeling and leading the child, that other parents aren’t going to judge you, they’re going to think wow, she just is so supportive of her child and she’s there for him no matter what’s going on.
Debbie Reber 00:20
Welcome to the Tilt Parenting Podcast, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host Debbie Reber and today’s episode features a conversation with Simone Davies. Simone is a Montessori teacher and parent educator who runs a Montessori playgroup in Amsterdam for babies, toddlers and preschoolers up to four years old. She’s also the founder of the Montessori notebook featuring free articles, downloads and videos on the Montessori approach as well as her virtual ecourse. Setting up your home Montessori style. Simone also happens to be a dear friend and regular work buddy and we meet up weekly to co work over coffee. We often get into deep conversations about education, parenting and our children. Simone has two teenagers, and I wanted to share one of our conversations with the tilt parenting audience. So in today’s episode, Simone and I talk about a lot of different issues, but our focus is on emotionally supporting our children and ourselves in especially difficult situations. I hope you enjoyed the episode and I look forward to bringing more conversations with Simone to the podcast. To learn more about tilt the revolution for parents raising a typical kids visit www.tiltparenting.com
Debbie Reber 01:37
Hey, Simone, thanks for coming over to my child’s bedroom.
Simone Davies 01:41
I love it. I think this is awesome. I’m never gonna forget coming to Debbie’s house. We’re sitting on the floor and in Asher’s room, and we’re going to have fun.
Debbie Reber 01:50
Just have a chat. One of the things I guess I learned about you when we first met is a year Montessori instructor, but much more than that, but I’m kind of new to the Montessori world and some of our listeners might be too. So would you mind just kind of, I don’t know. Do you have a two minute spiel of what Montessori is?
Simone Davies 02:08
Yeah, sure. Montessori is like an alternative education system. So instead of a teacher standing at the front of the classroom, instead, you have materials laid out around the room and different subject areas, and the children actually can choose for themselves what they want to work on. So it’s actually empowering children to learn because they’re interested in something, not because the teacher says that this is what we need to learn. And so basically encouraging curiosity in kids and yeah, empowering them to stick at things, concentrate, follow their own development, no one’s the same. And then you have mixed age groups, usually in a classroom. So the older kids can help the younger kids and the younger kids observing and watching older kids. So it amazingly works, that it’s not complete chaos. Actually, everyone’s really busy working yet the freedom to choose is amazing, because they actually want to learn then. Yeah,
Debbie Reber 03:00
Yeah, that’s, that’s very cool. And I think, in kind of learning about the work that you’re doing, and I’ve learned more about Montessori through you, and realize there’s a lot of overlap, I feel like and the ways that we’re trying to raise Asher especially because a lot of our focus is on developing kind of executive functioning skills and independence and doing things on his own that for Asher, and for a lot of kids who are differently wired or approach things differently might be more challenging. So I’m really interested in that aspect of Montessori, too. I know, I always think of little kids, like, chopping vegetables and you know, kind of working in the kitchen at a young age. And that’s a big part of it, too. Right? This kind of independently doing things.
Simone Davies 03:45
Yeah, totally. It’s not like saying, oh, here, you have to grow up and do everything yourself. Like and take all the fun out of childhood, it’s actually that they’re so interested in doing it and working alongside and being part of the family. And yeah, like a toddler can cut apples and be really proud that they made their own snack and it’s not forcing the job. They want to sit down and eat the snack they just made. So it’s just including them in daily life. And all of those kinds of skills are so useful, and they have processes and steps. And so they can build concentration, they’re learning a lot. And for a toddler, they’re actually getting fine motor skills from these kinds of activities and daily life. So that’s really cool. I mean, it’s a lot of Montessori, even if once you move into school age, the materials that they use in the classroom is all concrete. So you don’t learn maths by someone writing on the blackboard, you actually had no materials. This is one this is 10 This is 100. This is 1000. And you can have a five year old who’s doing something like 5,360 because they can just go and get 5,000 blocks and add them to another for some 1,000 they get one doesn’t look like Oh look, there’s 6,000 there and they concretely see that it makes so much more sense than having to do everything abstractly. So this hands-on learning is such a big part. It’s just not Yeah. Really like being involved, they often talk about in Montessori. Hands connected to the brain, you know, so don’t just passively learn things like through your brain actually touch things and you’ll learn better.
Debbie Reber 05:08
That’s very cool. And something you said earlier, too, that jumped out at me is this idea that it’s one of the main foundations of how we’re doing school here. And one of the main foundations of tilt is that every child is on their own timeline. And I think that’s so important. And so that’s another way I feel like Montessori, the principles behind that are so in alignment with what I think works for a lot of kids who are differently wired.
Simone Davies 05:33
Yeah, this to be kids learn in so many different ways, even my own two children, one’s an observer, and one has to really repeat and repeat and repeat to learn things. But observing is also a valid way to learn. And in a traditional classroom, that doesn’t often work because they’re not can do your worksheet. Now. I just like well, actually, I’m just like taking it in, I can see him then just write down and do it once. And then you have other kids who would like to practice and that kind of thing. You have, yeah, so many different ways of learning. And sometimes one kid is really fast at speaking, and another child is more busy with motor skills, but they’ll get on there. Yeah, in their own timeline to the place that they need to be.
Debbie Reber 06:10
It’s a hard thing for people to remember, I think, because there’s so much pressure, I still do sometimes, you know, feeling a lot of pressure, like, oh, you know, we live in Amsterdam, and kids riding their bikes everywhere from a very young age and Ashurst on the back of my bike. And he’s 11. And I’m sure people were like, What the hell is that big kid doing on the back of her bike, but he’s not ready yet. And then always having to kind of remind myself, he’s on his own timeline, he’ll get there, he doesn’t have to do it when everybody else is. And so I think that idea extends beyond academic just kind of life in general, for kids.
Simone Davies 06:44
Yeah, I think it’s really difficult not to compare, but just to trust that your child knows what the year that they will develop, and they will develop beautifully as their own person, each child is an individual. And I love that, instead of just trying to get everyone to fit into the same hole. It’s just actually, no, we’re all different. And you can have different strengths.
Debbie Reber 07:05
And well, I think kids also notice when their peers are doing things differently. And it’s kind of our responsibility to remind them to, that’s fine. Everyone’s working at a different pace. I know when Asher was, you know, in kindergarten in first grade, he was. So for someone who’s not observant socially, in some situations, he was very aware of kids who were better at writing, you know, the motor skill. Actually, their handwriting was much neater, or kids who answered something more quickly, like that was on his radar. And depending on how we went with that, that could have been a real source of frustration for him. And so I think it’s important that a big responsibility parents have is to just always be reminding kids like, hey, there’s no one way to learn this. We’re all on our own timeline, and not adding additional pressure, because a lot of them do kind of notice where they fit in among their peers.
Simone Davies 07:58
Yeah, it’s one thing for us to drop the labels and another thing for them to drop their own labels. Yeah, yeah. super interesting.
Debbie Reber 08:04
So last week, two Thursday’s ago. Anyway, we meet most Thursdays for coffee, and then we do some work together. Well, co-working, independently working, but keeping each other company and we had a conversation that I thought was really interesting. And I, you mentioned that a parent at your Montessori Montessori School had struggled because their child was having a really difficult moment. And you were talking about that balance between the parent and the child. And when the child’s having a difficult time what the parent can do in that place. And I wonder, could you kind of like, I’m probably totally butchering this story. So could you recap the situation? Because I thought that was really interesting.
Simone Davies 08:46
Yeah, to be honest, I can’t remember the specifics now of what happened. But what can happen very easily is a child starting to lose it, perhaps he snatched something from another child or something like this, and they just wanted, they’re saying, Oh, I’d like to have a term with that. But instead, the mom’s kind of like intervening and getting more wound up and wanting the child to give it back. And then they’re both getting stressed. And it kind of often feeds this energy. And both of them kind of start losing it. And we were just, I think talking about in general, how instead, if a parent can just see what’s the child’s problem, and what’s, what they can do to support that child through it, it doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be easy, but they’re guiding and so you be this rock kind of there, you’re supportive, and so they don’t feel abandoned, but at the same time, you’re not taking it on. So you’re like, Okay, what can I do to help him get through this difficult situation? Oh, it looks like that. You’d like that toy? Yeah, I can see you’d really like that toy. And you can kind of maybe empathize with them and talk him through that. And sometimes that’s enough. Or other times you’re like, oh, it looks like he’s crying. Does he need some help to come down? Or do you want to get a tissue for him and kind of guiding him that way? So you’re kind of like not solving the problem for him but you’re just standing there and helping and not taking over and letting them have their difficult moment? Maybe they can come to calm and then they can make amends for what went wrong. Those kinds of things. But we’re just talking about how to, you don’t want to be completely uncompassionate, I’m not saying that. But being a rock, I think is a really nice visual thing that you’re so strong and steadfast for your child, but you’re not emotionally getting reactive yourself.
Debbie Reber 10:17
Yeah, that’s the key though. It’s something that I’ve had to learn over with a lot of practice, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to practice not getting emotionally involved. But I think when you have a child whose reactions are considered bigger, and a lot of differently wired kids, whether you know, they have ADHD, or are on the spectrum, or, you know, a really intense gifted kid or whatever, they their reactions can be so much bigger to the point where it’s inappropriate for the situation, or you might be getting looks from other people. And as a parent, it can be so hard in those types of situations to not get emotionally involved. It really triggers something. And that’s something I’ve found so challenging. Do you have any strategies? I mean, I’ve seen you, you’re pretty calm and cool.
Simone Davies 11:09
I think I’m kind of this, some people call it a sportscasting technique. You know, like you’re viewing a race, it’s kind of what sports cars should be like. And this goes in first, and kind of like talking about what’s happening in the race. And then this guy’s lady head and this kind of thing. So if you’re commentating on what’s happening, like, okay, Asher, I can see that you’re kind of getting frustrated by that. And then you can come back down and you just talk him through, like what might be happening, I can see you’re really pulling that really hard. That looks really frustrating. And then you’re actually just remaining quite calm. And sportscasting can sometimes give you a little bit of arm’s distance. I know some people just say breathe, but it’s never it’s kind of that’s always a great advice for later. But some people are really good at just managing to take some breaths. And actually, the kids sometimes can hear you taking breaths, and that can give them great modeling. Yes. is also really useful. I think it’s just also a whole lot of practice as well is kind of like okay, that went wrong. And I’m going to apologize, because that went wrong. And next time, you know, how can I see this off better often things like preparation is like a whole lot of it. Like there’s no point going to a doctor for surgery and expecting a toddler to wait patiently. It’s like, have your snacks in a little bag ready, if you need to pull out a car or something to play with, and those kinds of things that you never get to the point. But also, I think sometimes it’s stepping in before the situation got so out of control. So sometimes I think we’re like, Okay, I’m going to be laid back and just let them kind of keep following them. But actually, they need guidelines, sometimes in some limits. So if a child is playing with water, and that’s making you feel uncomfortable, you should step in when it’s making you feel uncomfortable, and not when it’s got too far. Okay, now, there’s too much water everywhere. And it’s got too far. So you’ve kind of also been triggered. So instead, I would come up and say, Oh, I see you really want to put the water all over the floor, like the water is for pouring? Do you want to pour it into the vase? Or are you done with the water, and then having to put the limit that maybe the waters finished for the day would then mean that you never got to the space where you got so out of your comfort zone. I mean, sometimes if your child is already melting down, and it’s not something to do with you, then you can step in, sometimes quite calmly, because it’s their situation, realizing it’s their problem, and leaving it there. It’s a big thing to practice, but it really pays off.
Debbie Reber 13:22
It’s a huge thing. Yeah, it’s definitely something we work on a lot. It’s something my husband needs a lot of reminders for. And, and I think I get more practice, because I’m home with Asher every day. And we’re homeschooling and I spent a lot of time working on these things. But I think what you said is really key, recognizing that it actually has nothing to do with us. And that is huge. Because if we are having such a strong emotional reaction, it’s because of something we’re telling ourselves about the situation, whether it’s, this shouldn’t be happening right now. My child’s behavior is out of control. It’s not okay, people are gonna think I’m a terrible parent. I don’t deserve to be spoken to this way, like any of those things are thoughts that are going to make you feel worse, right? If our thinking controls our emotions, and so that’s something I work on too, is just reminding myself, this has nothing to do with me. This only has something to do with Asher at this moment, not having the skills he needs to cope with his intensity. But it can be really hard to not get sucked in.
Simone Davies 14:29
Yeah, I mean, also, if you are in a social situation, it’s like and you’re, I think sometimes just remove yourself from a social situation so you can feel safe to just be with them as they go through their Yeah, very emotional roller coaster. Sometimes it’s like they start with real anger because they’re frustrated at the situation. And then they go through sadness and then like it’s grief and it can be a 40 minute process or something. And if you can just at least be somewhere away from other sides. I mean, also just stepping in and saying, I can see that you’re not coping and if You had to stay in that room with other people, just by you being very calm and modeling and leading the child, the other parents aren’t going to judge you. They’re going to think, wow, she just is so supportive of her child and she’s there for him no matter what’s going on. Yeah. So I think we’ve got to lose the worry about the other parents. But actually, if you want to model great parenting for them, like just be that really like, I’ve got this under control, and I’m going to, yeah, some people like to use the idea, the analogy of like a captain. And I find Captain a tricky one. But at least if you think about it, if you want to ship and something went down, like you’d want the captain to step in and take control, they’re not going to get flapped or things like that. So if you can just be this like, Really, okay, I know exactly what I’m gonna do. I’m just gonna stand here and hold you and keep you safe while you’re melting or whatever. That could be a useful Yeah, for people to visualize.
Debbie Reber 15:55
Well, I like that. And I like the idea of having a plan, I think is really important to know, like you said, kind of know, understanding what the situations are, where that child could get triggered, or could get upset. And then also, knowing what your plan is, I loved going back to something I mentioned earlier, I actually love that sportscaster, I’m going to use that breathing that has worked for me at different times. And in fact, Margaret Webb, who I’ll be having on this podcast at another time, really helped me learn a specific breathing strategy that made an instant difference in the kind of moment, you know, helping me calm down. And I’ve certainly found that if I can be that rock, it really just turns down the volume on Asher’s reaction right away. But it has to be from a genuine place. I can’t be faking being a rock, like I have to be the rock, I have to believe I’m the rock. And if I can stay in that place, he will often come back down to my level. So the key is making sure that I don’t and I like that when you were saying, noticing. When you’re starting to get elevated, I thought you were talking about noticing the child’s energy, which is something I think a lot of parents who have kids that react more intensely, we are reminded to always recognize when they’re about to blow, because once they’ve blown, forget about it, you’re in damage control, there’s you know, but so we’re always trying to watch Oh, they’re creeping up into the yellow zone. And we’re getting near the red zone myths figure, see if we can stop this from happening. So I like that you talked about that idea. But really, it’s about yourself too. And that is a great way to model it for your kids who are learning how to recognize when they’re about to lose it. Okay, cool.
Simone Davies 17:39
I’m also playing around with it myself, nothing to do with my Montessori training or anything but also meditating, I’ve been probably meditating for over a year. And then I’m just finding this silence and just practicing at neutral moments, like I’m cycling through the park, and I’m just feeling a little bit agitated. And so I’m going to practice kind of getting that little bit of drop of peace that I had this morning and practice now. And so practice when actually times, quite easy. And then in more difficult situations, maybe then you’re like, Oh, I’m going to try and see if I can bring that little drop of peace back. And I’m getting agitated. And that can also be really calming.
Debbie Reber 18:14
So earlier, you mentioned the word empathy and practicing empathy with our child. So can you say just a little bit more about that? How can that help defuse a situation?
Simone Davies 18:23
Yeah, totally. I don’t know. It’s how you interact with even adults. And I find it’s so nice if a friend and like you’ve just explained, you’ve had a really difficult day. And if they just say, Oh, that sounds like it was really difficult. I feel like I’m heard instead of just rushing in to solve the problem, give advice, or deny my feelings, like, Oh, you shouldn’t worry about that. This happens all the time. You know, so it’s just really being heard. And so it’s practicing the same thing with your child. It’s like, Oh, I see that you really wanted that toy if it was something that they’re struggling with, when they really want to take something from someone else, or it’s like, oh, that fell on the ground, and they completely lost it. You know, it’s just like, oh, that didn’t work out the same way that you expect, or a kid falls over. And instead of saying, Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s fine. You can just say, Oh, that was a shock. And it really hurt. And just allowing them to have big, ugly emotions. It’s like you’re really full of rage right now. I mean, just accepting not. Yeah, those big ugly feelings instead of trying to push them away. Because I think if anyone’s tried to lean into an ugly feeling, it goes away quicker if you just lean into it and let it go. And it’s allowing those feelings and just empathizing with them. Yeah, empathy can sound like oh, is it that you feel frustrated about that? Or it could be, you know, trying to put a name on those feelings? Just put yourself in their shoes and say, What am I feeling like? Oh, just Oh, wow. You must be really disappointed. Yeah. And then if you get the feeling wrong, it’s okay to because they might go Oh, no, was it disappointing? I kind of was just like, it wasn’t what I was expecting. And then it just helps them clarify their feelings. I don’t think they often get angry if you get it wrong. It’s just like you’re kind of questioning it.
Debbie Reber 20:05
Yeah. And you’re also respecting their right almost to have an emotional response. I mean, I think I grew up. I don’t think I know I grew up in a household where anger was an emotion that wasn’t okay to exhibit, at least not on my part. And so I think, and I think a lot of people grow grew up that way that anger, and those really big emotions, frustration, anger, can make people feel uncomfortable. And us as parents, when we see our child exhibiting those, it triggers that same uncomfortableness in us. But that is something that strategy of just recognizing it, you are really upset right now you’re really I can tell you’re really sad about this, or I started doing that with Asher a number of years ago. And I think it was Ross Greene’s book, The Explosive Child. That’s one of the strategies that he talks about. And it really was amazing how it could stop a meltdown, or kind of just almost jolt Asher out of it just by recognizing and acknowledging their experience. So I think that’s a great reminder, that empathy and yes, you’re right, it’s something we can all practice with everyone in our lives. So before we wrap up, just this idea, and you said something earlier about this, so maybe you could talk more about this idea of making amends and circling back after the fact. Can you say more about that?
Simone Davies 21:30
Yeah, I think it’s really important because I think some people have preconceived ideas that Montessori is about letting the children do whatever they like. So does that mean that they can go and do something wrong to somebody else and then not take responsibility for it? It’s actually not what Montessori is about is actually really teaching kids to take responsibility as well. So when they’re in rage, there’s no rationale saying, Oh, it’s not okay to do this. They’re not hearing you, they just cannot even hear. But when you have helped them calm down, then that’s when it’s time to make amends. And it’s helping them find a way that is okay, like that. They take responsibility for what they’ve done. So I have a story if you’d like it. Yeah. So my son was a little bit upset. He was feeling left out because my daughter had a friend sleepover. So he set the alarm to go off at four o’clock in the morning and their room. And so they were furious in the morning, like, oh, it’s not okay. And so I walked into these rageful room and said, what’s going on? And I understood the situation. And I said, okay, so they’re really upset. And you see that you’ve done the wrong thing. And like, how can you make it up to the goals, and they ended up deciding that he was going to cook them breakfast, and he ended up making them french toast, and he was really proud of himself. And so it’s about making amends. I didn’t have to come in and say, Okay, well, you’re never having a friend over and you’re grounded, because that would be like a punishment, and he would then hate me for it. And it’s not saying, Oh, don’t worry about it, girls, you know, it’s just sleep. It’s actually saying that was really not okay. But let’s find a way that you can make it up to them. And like the next time that she came to sleep over again, I’ve said all over the alarm. He’s like, No, I’ve got to do that. So he’s also learned from it. So yeah, that’s my story I like to make amends.
Debbie Reber 23:10
I love that. That’s great. We call those restitutions. That was a big part of our life for about a year and a half. Something happened. Yeah, we’re not big into punishment, because it just doesn’t seem to be very effective. But restitution is Yeah, taking responsibility. And so maybe a restitution here would be Asher, helping me straighten up my room or make my bed with me or something, some way to kind of acknowledge and make amends for something that you did, but in a way that feels good for everybody. That’s a great reminder. Yeah, cool. Well, thanks for being one of my very first guests on the tilt podcast and I hope that you will come back again and we’ll do this again on the floor of my son’s bedroom.
Simone Davies 23:53
I’d love to.
Debbie Reber 23:57
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Tilt Parenting podcast. To learn more about Simone and her awesome resource the Montessori notebook, visit her online at www.themontessorinotebook.com. And I’ll include a link for Simone’s website as well as all the resources we mentioned in our conversation on the show notes for this episode, which you’ll find at tiltparenting.com/session8. For more information on all the podcast episodes visit tiltparenting.com/podcast. If you’re enjoying the Tilt Parenting podcast, we encourage you to subscribe over on iTunes as well as leave an honest review. If you have the time. That really helps us get more visibility so more parents can become aware of tilt. Lastly, for more information on Tilt the revolution for parents raising differently wired kids and to sign up to be a part of the community, visit www.tiltparenting.com