Nurturing the Seeds of Ethical Behavior in Children

By McFarland, Sonnie | Montessori Life, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Nurturing the Seeds of Ethical Behavior in Children


McFarland, Sonnie, Montessori Life


Ethical behavior is peaceful behavior. Maria Montessori recognized the importance of educating children for peace and developed a comprehensive program to make this possible. She recognized that children enter this life with the seeds of their potential deep within their souls, and are driven to develop this potential. In her book, The Secret of Childhood, Montessori said:

When a new being comes into existence, it contains within itself mysterious guiding principles which will be the source of its work, character, and adaptation to its surrounding.... There is in the soul of a child an impenetrable secret that is gradually revealed as it develops. (p. 19)

In order for this secret of childhood to be revealed, it is imperative that adults create beautiful environments for children that nurture their unfolding spiritual lives as well as their physical, intellectual, and emotional lives. When this happens, children begin the path to normalization, the foundation for ethical behavior. When environments are not carefully prepared and seeds of anger, fear, and distrust are watered, children's behavior reflects those obstacles or deviations Montessori so carefully observed.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, describes this process in his book Touching Peace-Practicing the Art of Mindful Living. He speaks of our consciousness as having two parts: the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind is seen as the living room and the subconscious mind as the basement. Everything we have experienced or perceived is in the form of a seed, or, as an analogy, film that is stored in the archives of our basement. At times, these seeds control our behaviors from the basement without our conscious awareness. Some of these seeds are based in fear and are uncomfortable and others are based in love and are comfortable to experience again.

Seeds stored in our subconscious come from our life experiences. Negative seeds stem from a variety of activities such as being told we are not capable, being ignored, being misunderstood, viewing aggression, being a victim of violence, and being put down by others. If the majority of our experiences are related to negative activities, many seeds of aggression and violence accumulate in our subconscious and may become our conscious reactions to conflict or turmoil.

Children react in much the same way: When exposed to aggression or violence, they absorb these impressions in their subconscious. For example:

* When well-meaning parents or teachers fail to give individual children in a group adequate attention, children interpret this as the adult telling them they are not important. Because being recognized and included in the group is extremely important to children, seeds of negativity are planted in their subconscious. Instead of seeking positive attention by cooperating, they may seek negative attention through disruptive behavior.

* When children's basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, and safety are not met, they experience many negative feelings such as abandonment, loss, anger, fear, and resentment.

* When children have been ignored and put down by others bigger than they are, seeds of anger, resentment, and aggression grow.

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