Discipline as Guidance: The Montessori Way

To be honest, I usually don't comment on other people's method of "disciplining" their children but a recent post by a vlogger in the Philippines and the feedback it got from other parents set off alarm bells to me.

That made me write this blog. Hopefully, this can be an eye-opener of some sort on how we can "discipline" children.

A lot of the people who commented were even praising the vlogger for inciting "fear" on the child and for leaving her alone [and taking a video of her] while she was throwing a massive tantrum in the middle of a mall.

Some people said "Ang mga batang hindi laki sa palo, lumalaking masama." "Ang mga magulang ay dapat KATAKUTAN."

These questions/thoughts were racing in my mind while I was browsing through the comments, as majority of them were agreeing and virtually applauding to the manner the child was "disciplined":

  1. Would you spank an adult who throws a tantrum after you forced him or her to do something against his/her will?

  2. Why do we punish children for being overwhelmed with emotions? Are we saying that adults who encounter overwhelm, should be punished too?

  3. Why do parents have to be feared? No good relationship comes out of fear. How will your child trust you if they fear you?

  4. Why do people assume that making a child feel worse (by inflicting physical or emotional pain) will make a child do better?

  5. Why do people assume there are no psychological damages done to a child who is physically or emotionally abused? Violence begets violence. A child growing up in that kind of environment may believe that aggression is the only solution to problems.

All these thoughts reminded me of what L.R. Knost said:

Also, whenever I share my take on "discipline" as guidance, some would quote the bible to justify why they physically inflict pain on their children.

Think about it -- what would Jesus do if a child is misbehaving?

The Bible should be read with an understanding of the cultural context in which its passages were written. Children in the ancient world were devalued, and often mistreated. These passages are not to be taken as a "command" to do physical punishment. Once we understand this context, the passages take on new meaning.

They are actually meant to place limits on violence in a world in which the weak and powerless, including children and slaves, were sometimes violently mistreated. It is also important to note that Jesus never advocated for physical discipline of children.

Catholic or not, this practice is outdated and even several popes have published encyclicals discouraging physical punishment (spanking, etc). And, even if I wasn't a Montessori Parent, i still wouldn't resort to hitting a child.

Positive Discipline: The Montessori Way

As Montessori parents, we believe in natural and logical consequences as opposed to punishment. Conflict resolution and respect for the environment, (both physical and environmental), are also important aspects of this approach. The goal is for a child to do the right thing, not because they will be punished if they don’t, but because they don’t want to adversely affect the people and world around them.

Let me explain this further. A consequence is the negative or positive outcome of a person’s actions. Consequences naturally drive human behavior because humans will always strive for positive outcomes. Just as adults do, children prefer outcomes that work for them. By pointing out or creating consequences, we can persuade children to choose appropriate behaviors.

For example, Kara was running while holding a cup of water and I told her to walk slowly because she might spill the water. She didn't listen to me so the water spilled and she stepped on it and slipped.

I didn't scream at her. I immediately asked if she was hurt and she said "just a little mama". I asked her to help clean-up the spillage so no one else slips. She became careful after experiencing the "natural consequence" of running while holding a cup of water.

Us parents should also be cautious whether or not to let a consequence happen - not all actions can be allowed to reach their natural consequence, some actions do not have a consequence that is immediately obvious, and some actions don’t even have a natural consequence - in this case, there are LOGICAL consequences (like, I would tell Kara not to cross the street without looking at her surroundings because she might get hit by a vehicle).

It is very important to take note that very young children do not quite understand the ramifications of their "misbehavior" yet. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to punish them (and yet, some people spank them). This does not mean that UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE should a child be allowed to continue any hurtful or destructive behavior. Adults have to be the GUIDES -- we have to SHOW THEM what is the right action or gently remove them from the situation.

As an example, Kara and I attended an event recently and Kara was playing with other kids before the program started. I noticed, a boy (around her age) kept getting the toys that Kara would pick (instead of waiting for his turn to play with it). I waited to see what Kara will do, and she told the kid to wait for his turn. The kid raised his hand (he looked like he was about to hit my child), so I immediately went between them to prevent my child from getting hurt. I tried to look for the parent but couldn't find her. Anyway, I just told Kara that the other kid may not fully understand what she is saying yet so she can just play somewhere else. In these kinds of situations, I try to speak with the parents because it is their child after all.

Here are some simple pointers on how to apply Positive Discipline:

  • Set limits that give your child order, consistency, and clear expectations. Within these limits, your child is free to explore and learn about his world. It is your responsibility as a parent to establish, enforce, and help your child understand your family’s limits.

  • Children learn about limits by testing them, so mean what you say.

  • Offer 2 choices (for kids below 6 yrs old). Also, Only offer choices you are comfortable with so both you and your child can feel successful. For example, we allow Kara to use gadgets but only for dancing or for sing-along. Never for playing games.

  • Focus on logical or natural consequences, not punishments. You cant make things better by making your child feel worse (like negative timeout, spanking, etc). For example, Kara has her own mug and if she isn't careful and breaks HER mug then she won't have a mug to use anymore unless she saves up to get a new one or borrow ours.

  • Provide a calm environment. If you yell at your child, then he or she might yell at you or others too or act out. Plus, it doesn't make sense to expect a child to calm down when you aren't being calm.

  • Be a RESPECTFUL PARENT. Children should be given the same respect we give to adults. They are people too. Also, hitting them physically is implying we can do whatever we want with their bodies. That isn't respect at all.

This whole approach is too long to discuss so I highly suggest to read the following books and let me know what your insights and reflections are too. (",)

Thanks for reading!

Mommy K

P.S.

Working on more initiatives to help make Montessori approach "mainstream" and further democratize it. Again, IT IS NOT about the Materials; the focus of this is respecting the CHILD.

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