At Fishtown Montessori, discipline isn’t about punishment. Rather, it’s about teaching children about consequences and how to make informed decisions. Teaching this to younger minds can be challenging, however. There are many ways you can go about illustrating discipline, some of them taken right out of Montessori’s own book.
Here are four tips from the Montessori perspective on discipline that you can introduce in your own home today:
Freedom Within Limits
Once your child is toddling around, they can start making some choices on their own. However, as adults are well aware, some choices can require the understanding of concepts beyond their current level of awareness. If your child has to make a choice based on a situation they don’t fully understand, they could end up frustrated or disappointed. If they have too many choices, they may be unable to choose.
To help simplify decision-making, reduce the complex options as much as you can. This means that your child can still make a decision, but it ensures the outcome is beneficial in some way. This also provides a chance for your child to practice making decisions and learning how to weigh their options. And if there are too many options or if the child can’t make an informed decision, simply tell the child what’s going to happen.
You might be wondering how this is possible. The Montessori principle of freedom within limits comes into play. For instance, on the shelves of the classroom, there are a limited number of options. While a student can make a choice on their own, they can only select from two or three things.
At home, this could take the form of, “You can choose between this pair of pants or those pants,” “You can wear these boots or those boots,” or “We can have chicken or pork tonight for dinner.”
Natural Consequences of Choice
One of the best ways to teach discipline is to give your child some understanding of consequence. For example, if your child wants to stay up late to watch a movie, rather than giving them a hard no, you can tell them, “Do you remember what happened the last time you stayed up late? You felt really tired and couldn’t think straight all day. Do you want to do that again?”
As you can see, this kind of questioning validates the child’s desire to do something while also giving them a clear view of the negative downside. You can do this for many situations. The key is thinking through the situation together.
Often, children will understand the points you make if you bring them up clearly and don’t make it a parent-child power struggle. In that light, the child will consider all outcomes and make the decisions that best suits them.
Clear Language That Emphasizes Causality
Set up expectations that are clear, giving your child a chance to see the patterns of behavior best suited for a situation. Do this by using if-then phrasing. For instance, “If you can get your clothes on fast, then we can make it to the movie theater in time.” Another example is “If you want to do this by yourself, then you’re going to have to do it this way.” The latter can be used to explain something as simple as opening a carton of milk.
A child will be motivated to do something the right way. Plus, by focusing more on the natural consequences rather than a punishment, children begin to naturally understand the direct connection between what they do and what unfolds.
You’re going to have to model this regularly, but if you do, a child will begin to trust that what you say is correct. Furthermore, they will be compelled to accept the patterns of your behavior, and they will develop discipline because you outlined what is expected of them.
Emotions Are Valid
One thing you have to remember is that a preschool-age child isn’t going to always comprehend why some choices are available and why others aren’t. For example, they might become frustrated that they can choose their breakfast but not when they get to eat it. Or they may wonder why they can choose their outfit for the day but not if they want to participate. This can lead to negative emotions and behaviors.
Rather than getting upset with your child about their emotions, acknowledge that those emotions are valid. Furthermore, give those emotions a name.
If your child is angry about having to wear a jacket because it’s cold or rainy out, you can say something to the effect of, “I understand that you’re upset because you didn’t want to have to wear this jacket. I know you’re disappointed that it’s raining.”
And remember to be patient. Let the emotions run their course, and don’t rush your child to get over something. They will eventually come around.
Discipline is more than just instructing your child about right and wrong. You are their ally, one of the people they rely on to learn about emotions and morality. Be sure to set expectations and freedom within limits to begin. As a parent, you can teach your child incredible lessons, give them tools to evaluate their emotions, and to set up healthy boundaries along the path to discipline.