Home / Why Montessori Education / When and how do I intervene in a situation?


By: Sarah Ortmann (3/27/14)

One of the most frequently asked questions I get regarding my role in the classroom is when and how do I intervene in a situation.  This is always a hard question to answer because each situation is different and each child is unique.  I certainly may handle a situation differently based on the age of a child because children of different ages have varying levels of ability to understand their choices and actions.  Similarly, not every child gains the tools to use in social situations at the same age.  While there is never a specific answer of exactly when or how to intervene, there are certain reminders that can help guide that decision.  Below are just a few tools that I use in the classroom that may also be helpful to think about at home.

 “Observe, Interpret, Respond”
Start by gathering information on the situation by observing. Then, interpret what you are seeing and choose whether or not to intervene. These simple steps will help you see what is really going on before taking action.  You may be surprised that in some cases you do not need to intervene at all.

Ask Yourself: Is the child causing harm to the materials/objects or other children?
In the classroom, intervention may be needed if a child is misusing the materials, and this may also apply to the objects in your home.  By intervening in a situation where materials or objects are being harmed, you will help the child better understand the rules of the environment and your expectations.  If a child is causing physical or emotional harm to another child, they may also need adult assistance.   Observe and interpret the situation first because there are times children are able to work things out on their own.  It is also always important to remember that safety comes first and there are times when intervention is immediately necessary to keep everyone safe.

Redirection: A tool for handling misuse of materials
If a child is misusing the materials, sometimes redirection can be used.  Redirection simply reminds the child of how to use the material.  These kind reminders may point out something of interest that guides the child in using the material properly or it may be a short re-presentation of how to do it.  Some phrases to help redirect:  “watch how (quietly/gently/slowly) I…” or “listen if you hear a sound…”   After refocusing the child on an interesting aspect of the activity, then step back  and observe to see if further action is needed or if you can leave the child to concentrate on their activity.

Feeling Understood: A tool for handling social situations
If a child needs assistance in a social situation, sometimes all they need is to know that their feelings are understood.  A wonderful tool is to simply restate their feelings to them just as they stated them to you.  For example, “You feel (the child’s feeling) because (what happened)”.  You can also follow up with a suggestion for them to handle the situation themselves, such as “Have you considered either (one choice) or (another choice)?”.  Overall it may sound like this, “You feel sad because your friend is on the swing that you want to use.  Have you considered either asking if you can have a turn or playing in the sandbox instead?”.

After choosing to intervene in a situation, take time to reflect on your actions and your choice of words. While every situation is different, it may be helpful to remember your choices if you find yourself in a similar situation.  There are a million times that I have asked myself if I could have said or done something differently.  Always remember that just as children are learning how to interact with the people and the things in our world, we, as the adults in their lives, are also learning how to best guide them in their growth and development. Isn’t it wonderful to think that adults and children are continuously learning together?