Sensitive period

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Sensitive period

As every parent knows, it takes only the smallest change to throw a toddler’s day out of whack.  A missed nap, a smaller-than-usual breakfast, a visiting relative, a move out of the crib and into a bed are all enough to disturb a child’s natural sense of order and routine. Even something like reading a different book at bedtime or folding the laundry a different way can cause an outburst.

When your child’s sensitive period for order kicks in, they expect things to stay the same and never change.  They prefer to do and see the things they have done before.  Disrupting this sense of order is probably the number one cause for most tantrums.  Children’s actions are often misunderstood as defiance or willfulness when they are actually a result of frustration and confusion. This sensitive period is a critical period of learning that allows the brain to make certain foundational developments that are essential to the child’s ability to learn to classify and organize the information around them.

“It seems to him, at this stage, a particularly vital matter that everything in his environment should be kept in its accustomed place; and that the actions of the day should be carried out in their accustomed routine.” – E.M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, p. 123.

Children crave consistency from their environment and in their daily schedules.  In the Montessori environment, we cater to this sensitive period at all times.  Every lesson has a specific place, daily routines are consistent and rarely interrupted, clear ground rules are evident and consistent, and the environment is kept clean and simple.

One of the ways you can help your child develop a sense of order at home is by establishing a daily routine that works for your family.

If you are working on toilet learning, establish regular times to have your child use the toilet. For example: When your child wakes up, before or after a meal, before you leave the house, when you return to the house, etc. In our classrooms, the children know when it is time to use the toilet – not because of the time on the clock, but because it is part of the daily routine.

If you struggle with maintaining a consistent bedtime, set a goal to start the process at the same time every night and do your best to maintain a consistent routine. For example: Take a bath, brush teeth, get dressed for bed, read a book (maybe the same book 50 nights in a row!), and say goodnight. Your child will take comfort in knowing exactly what to expect.

Knowing that your child is in a sensitive period for order can help you prepare them, and yourself, for changes or misunderstandings that might ensue because they understand things happen a certain way, or belong in a certain place.  You can tell your child things may change before they do.  If it is a long-term change, you can try easing them into it by changing things in increments over time, or by speaking to them about it beforehand.  The important thing to remember is that your child’s frustration or focus is based on their need to learn and understand the world, and not the desire to control or manipulate.  When your child is upset, if you think on how things may have changed and look to remedy unanticipated change in the future, you may find that tantrums become far fewer.

Whitney Kimbro