We all love small children. The news that a new life has taken birth gives us the happiness which is incomparable. As soon as the baby is in our hands, we start making a list of things to buy, we start reading up on developmental milestones and what we as parents need to do once we have a baby. So, does a child really need us to do all that?

Observe your child
How do we then know, what to do? To answer or understand a child’s needs we will have to: OBSERVE…. OBSERVE…. AND OBSERVE…. Observing a child to understand his needs is the KEY ROLE parents have to play in a child’s life. When you observe a child you can easily understand his needs. When a child cries, we try to pacify him, carry him or try to feed him thinking he might be hungry or needing our attention. There are many reasons a child might cry, but how do we decide which reason a child cries for, at a particular instance?

“In order to have valid observations, it is necessary to allow the child to manifest himself. If we put a cage around him, the bars in the bed and so on, his mani­festations will be false. There is a need for a suitable environment so that the child can act naturally.”

(Costa Gnocchi in Honegger Fresco, 2001, p.115)

Again, observing is the only answer to this. Observation leads us to realise that ‘sometimes’ we don’t have to do a thing when a child cries. Why? Because a child is trying to move and facing a failure or a child is trying to grab an object but unable to do so, or the child wants to say look at me, but is unable to say so. So, he cries. Before rushing in to give help to a child, always think of a caterpillar which takes a lot of effort to come out from a cocoon, as a butterfly. When a helping hand is given, we cripple that butterfly for life.

Observation is key
Observing children showed me that children have different needs at every stage of their life and the one important thing they need at every stage is FREEDOM. Freedom to choose, freedom to move, freedom to talk, freedom to fail, freedom to rise, freedom from unnecessary help. Freedom alone helps a child to self-construct, to build himself and become a contributing member in our society. This discovery was made by Dr Maria Montessori around 150 years ago and by many before her and many after her time as well. She discovered that one has to give a proper lesson at a proper time and then leave the child to exercise and repeat, accept his failure and then find a path for success.

“Our studies contradict the widespread opinion, seen also in many reports, that the adult’s direct help is necessary for children to acquire the basic and transitory motor developmental skills and for being active in gross motor activities. The adult’s support and teaching or help may hinder to a certain extent the continuous gross motor activities of children.”

(Pikler, 1972, p.308)

The child is so much more capable to educate himself in a free environment where there is no competition but can work according to his own capability and laws of development.

My own experience
I would like to give an example of my 6 months’ old child whom I kept observing. Every new development (grasping, turning, moving) that he achieved came after instances of crying. I resisted my urge to help unnecessarily and saw the joy of his own accomplishment which no money could ever buy. I decided that it is necessary to give him freedom to first accept his failure and then achieve his own success rather than holding or pacifying him. It was the most dignified response I could give another human being. Imagine struggling at something you know you can do, and someone rushing over to do it for you. Imagine the feeling you get when that happens.

My conclusion? Observe -> Freedom -> Failure -> Observe -> Freedom -> Success

“… The child should be allowed to develop freely, in liberty. Two reasons exist for this approach: first, as we have seen, the child develops himself. Secondly, because of that self-development, the child reveals to us the laws motivating his work, that is, the psychological laws of his life. So we must develop both a science and an art to respect the liberty of the child.”

(Montessori, Maria (2008). The California Lectures of Maria Montessori, 1915. Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company)

Vidya is a Montessori Guide at Eager Kids Montessori. While she strongly believes in freedom and choice, she can also be firm with them when she needs them to follow the rules to ensure freedom within limits.