Toddlers are Unreasonable

“The child’s way of doing things has been for us an inexhaustible fountain of revelations.” – Maria Montessori

I had a small group of kids in the classroom which often leads to musical requests and dance parties. They asked for a song called, “Animal Action”. It is a loud bustling children’s song where they sing about various animals you act out. It is also a long song. After repeating it three times, I said I would like to listen to a different song. O said, “I like Animal Action.” I paused and then asked, “Well, can you tell me what it is you like about Animal Action?” O thought about it then responded, “I like it because it has fun parts.” I said, “Well, that is pretty reasonable. I wonder if we could go back and forth, playing this song then another song of my choosing that is also pretty fun?” O answered, “I think that sounds good. After this song, sure.”

We went back and forth for a number of songs before it was time for snack. We sat down and got to talking about lemonade. I shared a story of one time in Preschool when all my preschoolers spent the morning squeezing over ten lemons into a bowl. Right as we finished, someone knocked the table and the juice all fell on the floor.

“You must have felt disappointed.”

Later, a group of kids were all standing on the sensory table with the lid on the top. H climbed up, making the space a bit crowded.

“Please don’t push me because if you do I might bump my head and then I may not get up in the morning so please don’t push me.”

When the kids kept pushing each other around, one child declared, “I’m worried H may push me so I am going to move.” When a few children got off H said, “I am sad to see them go.” He walked over to the table the other children moved to and said, “Can I come up there with you? I won’t push you I think.”

All day I was noticing my toddlers talking about their emotions, and the emotions of others. They found ways to solve problems with minimal adult help, asked and answered intentional questions, and displayed a logical and reasonable demeanor. It made me think of all the times I have heard, “Don’t try to reason with toddlers!” Sometimes this statement is even bolder, “Don’t try to reason with children!”. But as the day kept going on I realized reasoning with my toddlers is one of my favorite parts of the day. Having back and forth conversations that invoke deep thinking and contemplation, noticing the emotions involved and discussing various perspectives – these are some of the best parts of my day!

Children can of course also be unreasonable, their brain is after all still developing. My job, I think, isn’t to stop trying to reason with them but rather help them learn how to get back to a place where they can be reasonable.

Considering how often I hear the reasonability of children brought up by adults, I was surprised upon reflection to not be able to come up with a single time I have talked to my kids about being reasonable. So that day, I talked to my kids about the word reasonable at a time where it came up naturally. I said something along the lines of, “Oh yes, I think that sounds very reasonable.” H asked, ‘What does reasonable mean?’ I said, “Reasonable means fair. It is something that is possible to do and sounds good to everybody involved.” Later when choosing songs and making a plan to play ‘Animal Action’ just one more time, O said, “Oh yes, that sounds reasonable to me.” 

The best part of introducing a concept such as reasonability is the opportunity to discuss nuances, opinions, and conflict within the same topic. I might think something is reasonable, but that doesn’t mean someone else will agree. Any chance to expand on the idea of disagreement, and how to disagree boldly but respectfully is a chance I will happily take!

This morning we were using instruments in the classroom. we recently decided that while we are introducing new instruments in the classroom, there would be a rule that the instruments have to stay on our stage. T was walking around with a phone he was using as a conductor’s baton. O said, “I think you have to stay on the stage with that.” T said, “No because it not an instrument, it’s a stick. I’m a conductor.” They both stopped and looked at each other, seemingly thinking about the disagreement before O said, “Yeah you can walk around with that I think.” T smiled and said, “I agree! I CAN walk around with it!”

Of course, this is in parallel with children becoming upset because I can’t dry their clothing immediately or because the marker on their skin won’t rub off or their peer is half a year older than them. However, I find this makes them seem even more incredible; imagine not yet having the skills to calm your body down and think about something logically and solve the problem immediately. Considering how much they still have to learn and develop, I would call them pretty darn reasonable.

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotion, it is our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos.” – L.R. Knost






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