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THE ABILITY TO CENTER
Sometimes a goal of children’s behavior is to withdraw. Although we may find this strange, in an encouraged child, it is defined as the ability to center. Linda Dunlay, the Marist College psychology department chair says, “Our ultimate goal as parents is to transform an infant who’s entirely dependent into a self-sufficient adult. Privacy allows kids to develop independence and individuality.”

From the very youngest age, infants demonstrate a need to withdraw by looking away for a few seconds. In Montessori, we are taught that adults should almost never disturb a child who is intent on a project. The infant who is babbling happily in his crib or who is fascinated by sunlight playing across the floor can be left to enjoy these private moments until he signals he needs attention. Toddlers want to declare their independence and then run back to the security of a parent they know will be there. They also love a safe place where they can be alone. This might be a sheet over the dining table or a pile of pillows in the living room. Older preschoolers like to assert their independence by developing a sense of ownership or “mine”. A special box of their own treasures is a form of privacy.

Around five or six, children may begin to ask for privacy. They may want to close the door while they bathe or they may not want you to get things out of their drawers. At this age, you’ll want to have a lot of patience to listen to your child as she really begins to share ideas with you. She may not have the vocabulary or the sophistication to get through a whole concept well, so you may have to listen to a lot of rambling. Practice “active listening” to solidify the relationship. During the teen years when kids become so much more private, you’ll be glad you learned these skills.

Everyone needs private time and space. You’ll have to role model this for your children. Be very clear about privacy rules, and obey them yourself. If your rule is to knock before entering a closed door, you must role model that behavior. If your rule is to respect other people’s possessions, you’ll have to be hands-off your children’s things. Very importantly, don’t be afraid to leave unstructured time in your child’s life. This time to reflect, to imagine, even to entertain oneself is an important learning. It’s a fine line to allow your child to be alone - but not lonely. Learn to be available. Parents need to be around, letting their children feel the push/pull between wanting independence and wanting to be connected. By establishing this balance, we develop the strong center our children need to keep themrselves stable.

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