Even when they are young, children want to know what’s expected of them; they also want to be a part of the community. This is because your child loves you and wants to be loved by you. Children are also driven to explore, grow, and develop a sense of independence as they discover the world around them. In order to do this safely, kids need their parents to show them how things are done.
The Montessori method tells us that there is a fine line between freedom and discipline. Dr. Maria Montessori herself stated that discipline is less of a fact and more of a way. In other words, discipline is cultivated alongside inner growth and awareness. This is why your Montessori school in Philadelphia gives the students freedom within limits, where they can develop their own center of control, giving them the ability to choose between right and wrong for themselves.
If you want to develop discipline in your child at home, here are some Montessori-based tips to help you out:
Stay Calm and Non-Reactive
When a child does something out of line, it is often because they want to produce a reaction from their parents. This is why teachers at Philadelphia Montessori schools remain non-reactive during outbursts. If you disassociate both negative and positive reactions from whatever happened, it also makes it easier to communicate.
It can be difficult to not get angry at your child for inappropriate behavior, but you need to remain calm. Get on their level and remind them what appropriate behavior looks like. For instance, if the child is being aggressive towards someone else, tell them that their hands are for holding, drawing, and carrying things, not for punching.
Don’t punish them. Explain that aggression hurts others, that it’s not okay. Staying calm during this explanation will defuse their need to do it again. Afterwards, redirect the child’s attention to another task.
Use Clear, Respectful Language
By using clear, concise, and respectful language when you lay down boundaries and expectations, you help your child comprehend which behaviors are more acceptable or give the desired result. For example, if your child keeps messing up with pouring water from the pitcher, you can say, “If you’re trying to fill your cup without spilling it, try holding the pitcher like this so the water can’t spill.” Or, “if you want to go to the store before it closes, you need to prepare more quickly.”
This also happens in the Montessori classroom. A teacher might say, “If you want to go outside, everyone needs to line up and be quiet. We’ll then go outside together.” From there, the teacher will tell the kids what has to be done to make this possible and why.
Children tend to react better to clear, succinct information. It’s consistent and reliable, and they thrive on that structure.
Allow For Freedom With Limited Choices
Children are usually capable of making their own decisions after a certain age. Yet, your child might be disappointed if the payoff isn’t immediate, or if there are too many choices and associated consequences. To help your child, start by making choices as simple as possible. For instance, you might limit their toy selection to two or three items rather than a whole treasure trove.
As they become more confident, you can add more choices. Limiting the range of choices is beneficial, because it gives your child an experience of control while ensuring that the outcome will be educational or beneficial in some way.
And no, the outcome doesn’t always have to be good or pleasant.
If you know that your child can’t make an informed choice about something, avoid coming to the rescue. Instead, discuss with your child what could happen from the decision and console them if they are upset about it. Try drawing their attention to things that they can decide for themselves.
Validate The Child’s Emotions
Being a child means making mistakes and feeling the whole range of emotions available to humanity. Children become frustrated when they don’t know the why of something. Why can’t they play with that toy now? Why can’t they decide not to go to school? Why can’t they have a say in when they have dinner?
As an adult, you’re in a position to help your child deal with this frustration by acknowledging what they feel. Give them time to experience their emotions, then discuss the reason after their emotions have started to calm.
Let Your Child Know What’s Expected
Sometimes a child will act out when they’re frustrated, because they don’t understand what they’re supposed to do. This includes routines. You can talk about expectations for what’s going to happen ahead of time. For example, if your child is expected to unload the laundry after dinner, you can talk about their assignment before and during dinner, so they know what’s coming.
This also works when your child misbehaves. For instance, you return home from school and your child immediately drops their bag at the door and goes to watch TV. You can say in a neutral voice, “What are we supposed to do when we first get home?” or “What is the first rule of the house?” Do not allow the child to proceed with the next activity until they have fulfilled the first one.
Again, this assumes that your child knows what to do. Always outline what is expected, and if they are new to the task, be sure to model it for them.
No Bribes, No Punishments, No Rewards
What is wrong with giving your child a piece of chocolate for being well-behaved, you ask? Bribes, punishments, and rewards are extrinsic, meaning that the child is looking elsewhere for cues on discipline rather than developing it within themselves. This is similar to bribing your child to do a task. They should want to do the task on their own, without you needing to goad them.
If you’re constantly bribing, rewarding, and punishing children for doing or not doing something, then you’re not giving them a chance to develop their own moral compass or manage their expectations.
Children desire growth, learning, and the chance to master their skills and emotions. As their parent or guardian, you can use their earnestness to your advantage. Stay calm, validate your child’s emotions, and walk them through the possible consequences of their actions. You can set clear boundaries while supporting your child’s independence, so that they actively develop a sense of discipline.