Montessori Basics Principle #6 Part 1 – Montessori Peaceful and Positive Discipline

Montessori Basics Principle #6 Part 1

Montessori Peaceful and Positive Discipline

Whenever we talk about discipline and the theory behind why and how we discipline, it takes some processing. Discipline is a big subject! It takes time to absorb our beliefs behind it and the possibility of new ideas surrounding it. During discipline workshops at my school for staff and parents, I often ask a series of questions to help them start thinking about discipline.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and ask yourself the following questions.  Go ahead….write down what comes to your mind. Then read on to see how your ideas align with some of the Montessori Principles that govern peaceful and positive discipline.

Think of a memory that you have about a time that you were punished or disciplined as a child…..

    • What were you feeling?
    • What were your thoughts about yourself and the person who was discipling or punishing you?
    • Did the punishment change the behavior in any way? How?
    • What kind of disciplinarian do you think this person was? (authoritative, permissive, uninvolved or authoritarian)
    • Do you think the way you were disciplined influenced the way you discipline?
    • What does “discipline” mean to you?

Any interesting revelations? Taking some time to reflect on past discipline experiences can be a little eye opening.

As a parent or teacher guide, discipline is an important topic of discussion. The most important foundational element to understand is that discipline isn’t something that we impart on someone else, but rather, it is found inward. It is created by each individual person through self-discovery.

Depending on how you answered some of the above questions, the idea of self-discipline, especially in small children may seem  foreign to you.

In this post, we hope to help you understand the many facets of the Montessori approach to discipline and why we believe this way of guiding children is so conducive to raising healthy and happy children.

Spiritual Preparation of the Adult

As you wrote answers to the above questions, what are some of the feelings you had? Did you notice any correlation between how you discipline and how you were disciplined?

Most of us learned about discipline the old fashioned way through obedience and punishment. Obey or be punished.

Punishment and discipline usually comes in the form of a frustrated adult upset with a disobedient child. Accompanied by fear, shame and disconnection. 😢

We have been taught that in order to get a child to behave, they have to fear the consequences. But compliance might be easier than you think! And emotionally better for adults and children too! But first, we need to take a look at ourselves.

Maria Montessori recognized that before we could effectively work with children and assist them in their journey to self discipline, we must first understand our own ideas behind discipline. (This is part of the Spiritual Preparation of the adult. We talk about what this is in great detail in our first basic principle post here).

Being a peaceful and positive discipline practitioner whether as a parent, teacher or caregiver takes patience, kindness, perseverance and an understanding of oneself. It is also important to understand the child and how children develop.

During our “spiritual preparation,” we begin to understand first our own perceptions about discipline. We work to get rid of old perceptions of discipline and start fresh. Then, we open our eyes to understanding the needs of children and their development. This spiritual preparation brings enlightenment.

Children are extremely capable of  learning to regulate themselves (self-discipline) with the help of enlightened adults guiding them.

Montessori’s Foundation For Discipline

Discipline, according to the dictionary, is something that is imposed on someone. But the root word or latin meaning of discipline, is “disciple” or “to teach”. So if this is true, then imposing a heavy hand out of control would not be the correct way to “guide” a child towards self-discipline.

In a Montessori environment, we encourage and guide children through many opportunities in movement and exploration. This eventually leads to self-discipline. Self-discipline is long lasting and so much more effective than controlled obedience. Self-discipline requires development of senses, thought, self regulation, mastery of mind and body, as well as respect.

Although Maria Montessori didn’t use the term positive parenting or discipline per say, she taught about the many important facets of a child’s education and development. Her foundational beliefs of giving children opportunities to develop independence is the very thing that leads a child to inner peace and discipline.

So how do we guide children to become self-disciplined? How do we create a learning environment that is fun with less meltdowns and more peaceful developmental growth? Let’s look at what Montessori believed children needed in order to become the best version of him/herself.

Dr. Montessori’s foundation of discipline is simple:
•respect for yourself
•respect for others and
•respect for the environment

Children gain this “respect” through purposeful movement, mastery of the mind, mastery of the body and community connection.



Purposeful Movement

“The undisciplined child enters into discipline by working in the company of others; not by being told that he is naughty…Improvement and rectification can only come about when the child practices voluntarily for a long time.” – Maria Montessori

Have you heard the adage “Children are meant to be seen and not heard?” This has always disturbed me. Children NEED to be seen and heard. They are on their own journey of self discovery, development and are forming their mind, body and spirit. If children are silenced out of fear, they grow up to be people who are not fully developed intellectually. They will most likely do the same to their children and the cycle will continue.

Many people have a difficult time with allowing children to move freely, often and sometimes loudly. I’m convinced this is one of the reasons that children of today watch as much tv as they do. It is so they will be still and silent. Now don’t get me wrong, TV has its place. But using TV as a means to keeping children quiet and still most of the day can cause serious developmental delays.

When we use TV or any electronics for long periods of time, the desired effect might actually backfire. Children have an innate desire and need to move, explore and create. Since watching TV and using electronics is generally passive, undesired behaviors can and will occur. Eventually arguing, non compliance, frustration towards siblings and even laziness will start. Have you seen it? Yeah….not fun!

As Montessorians, we understand that movement, not passive obedience, is what leads to self mastery.

“Since the child now learns to move rather than to sit still, he prepares himself not for the school, but for life.” – Maria Montessori

It is the responsibility of caregivers, parents and guides to help children learn important foundational skills. This is obtained by carefully curating a peaceful, nurturing and engaging environment. A place where children have opportunities to master skills of inner discipline through repeated and deliberate practice.

Let children explore their environments! Finding ways to allow children what Montessori termed “Freedom of Movement within Limits” is the key to a child beginning along the road to self-discipline.

You might be thinking that giving young children freedom sounds chaotic and honestly, it could be if you don’t understand the method behind the idea. Montessori has been thought to be the program that allows children to do whatever they want. I’m here to tell you that this idea cannot be further from the truth!

Montessori is about boundaries, limits, guidance, trust and mutual respect.

Mastery of the Mind and Concentration

We prepare an environment based on observations of our child and what we believe their interests and needs are. By doing so, we hope that they find materials and activities that “call to them” drawing them in as they begin to develop deeper and deeper levels of concentration. It is through this state of joyful concentration that children begin to master their mental control.

Activities should engage the hand and the mind. They should allow a child to repeat a physical movement such as dish washing, water pouring, cutting work, solving a puzzle, learning to tie their shoes, helping with the laundry, preparing a snack ,etc. Eventually this repetition helps a child to bring his/her will into a more controlled state of being.

Maria Montessori observed that self-discipline or what she termed “normalization” always comes about through concentration on a piece of work.

“For this we must provide ‘motives of activity’ so well adapted to the child’s interest that they provoke his deep attention…”The essential thing is for the task to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality.” – Montessori The Absorbent Mind

When we see a child connect with a material and repeat it over and over again, we know that the child is on his way to this transformation of self regulation and discipline. It is always an exciting time even if we just see moments of it at first.

Through carefully preparing environments and giving lessons on the materials that are of interest to a child, we begin to see concentration levels increase and independent joyful play come forward.

Mastery of the Body

Learning to focus and master the body is an important destination of self- discipline. As parents and caregivers following the Montessori way, we can assist a child with this development in several ways. First, we need to recognize that we can’t master something that we do not practice. We have to allow our children room to move and feel their body in order to be able to master it. This is where a carefully prepared environment comes into play, not to mention patience and faith. 😄

By preparing an environment that says, “Yes” to our child, we are allowing them freedom to explore. To create. To manipulate and express through movement. A “Yes environment” is one that has been prepared with the child in mind based on observations of their skill level and development. Think of it this way, if we set up a room for a preschool aged child with work for an older elementary aged child, not only will the environment be frustrating to the preschool child, it will create frustration for the parent guide as well. You might find yourself wanting to say, “No!”. Making sure that we have things  that are developmentally appropriate in our child’s environment that we can say “Yes” to is a win win for everyone!

Freedom of Choice Within Limits

Think back to a few paragraphs above when we mentioned setting limits. The “Yes” environment that you create will be one that you control. You set up the things that are of interest to your child but that they are developmentally ready to use. When they make a choice within your limits, they can only make good choices, yet they have been given the freedom to choose which is that part that drives their development appropriately.

Freedom of movement within limits allows the child to experience the use of all of his/her senses but touch is probably the most important sense to a child during the preschool years. This is an important way a child learns. Have you heard this expression?

“Tell me and I forget,

teach me and I remember,

involve me and I learn.”

Have you ever told your child “don’t touch” or “put that down” only to have them get really upset with you and even start a tantrum? Of course you are protecting them or something else from strong hands and potential danger but did you ever think that by telling a child “no” over and over again, you are actually helping to create a naughty behavior?

An excerpt from Dr. Montessori’s own Handbook p. 88 reads,

The tendencies which we stigmatize as evil in little children of three to six years of age are often merely those which cause annoyance to us adults when, not understanding their needs, we try to prevent their every movement, their every attempt to gain experience in the world (by touching everything, etc.) the child, however, through this natural tendency, is led to coordinate his movement sand to collect impressions, especially sensations of touch, so that when prevented, he rebels, and this rebellion forms almost the whole of the”naughtiness.” 

What wonder is it that the evil disappears when, if we give the right means for development and leave full liberty to use them, rebellion has no more reason for existence?

Are you beginning to see a contrast from a more traditional approach to learning? Many learning environments are always asking a child to “pay attention”, “sit here”, “don’t touch that”. A Montessori environment is different. Montessori allows for freedom of movement and choice.  A child is free to choose work that is engaging to him. This means that here is far less room for unwanted behavior to occur.

Lessons, Practice and Repetition

As a teacher, parent or guide, we model processes of work daily. We give lessons with less words and more slow and precise movement. It is almost an exaggeration in the presentation so that the child has the opportunity to process what he/she has been shown. Believe it or not, a child will almost mimic perfectly a lesson or thing they see an adult do whether intentional or not. Think about that. I’m sure you have seen your child copy what you do or say on more than one occasion.

When we provide activities such as pouring, a child must master how quickly and how much movement is needed to pour without spilling.

When a child carries the bell from one end of the room to the other without allowing it to ring, he/she has to practice not running, so the bell won’t make a sound.

When cleaning a leaf on a household plant, a child has to practice self-control and gentleness in order to handle the delicate plant leaves without tearing it.

Tonging, spooning and scooping activities allow for practice in controlling a child’s hand movements. The list of Montessori activities goes on and on but you get the idea.

As we give opportunities to practice control of movement through engaging activities, little by little, our children begin to master themselves.

Grace and Courtesy lessons are also a part of being given opportunities to learn how to move. Things like showing a child how to greet someone, or how to walk around someone’s work, or how to carefully and considerately ask for help or to join in on an activity with another child.

In our homes, this practice might look like carefully carrying dishes and putting them in the sink quietly, quietly pushing in a chair, putting clothes in the correct place once we get out of the bath, or cleaning up our work or toys at the end of the day.  Do we throw them into a basket? Or do we carefully arrange them back on a shelf where they belong?

I always like to ask the child to show me how to do something once an initial lesson has been given. “Can you show me how to__________(fill in the blank)?” By doing this, we allow the child to become the teacher and have ownership over the process or activity they are carrying out. This also allows for more practice. Almost magically, over time, we begin to see the child refining his/her movements, moving more carefully and capable of slowing down in a more graceful presence.

Community Connection

Once a child learns to control his mind and body, he is ready to practice being a part of a community or part of daily family life. You might be wondering what this means? Aren’t your children already a part of your family? Yes of course they are but we are referring to that part of community that co-exists with each other harmoniously.

Children begin to understand the rules of community through his own experiences. Until he has gained control over his mind and body through practice, it is very difficult to expect a child to be a part of a larger group. Following rules or engaging appropriately in team play or family life in a soft and controlled way would be very difficult. A child first has to learn to walk before he runs.

Maria Montessori said it this way,

“How can we expect them to do their work carefully and patiently, if care and patience are among their missing gifts? It is like saying “walk nicely~” to a person without legs.  Qualities like these can only be given by practice, never by commands.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 209)

Children learn to become community members by being involved in community. Mastering skills of self-discipline through thoughtfully curated environments with the help of adults who guide by giving opportunities in freedom of movement as well as daily choices. We will begin to see a child who thrives in a community of rules. They will naturally begin to respond with kindness, patience, sharing, protection of the rights of others and with genuine concern for others.

It’s important to remember that discipline is a journey. It is something that requires practice. A child grows stronger as he learns to master his mind and body and continues to practice his new skills daily.

Providing our children opportunities for development in self- regulation is also a growing period for adults. As we learn to create “Yes” spaces and let go of old antiquated ideals of what discipline really means, we enjoy our own growth and self discovery.

So, let your children make choices! Give them opportunities to lead their education! Trust in the process of “freedom within limits”! Guide them through Grace and Courtesy lessons, and watch them begin to find that part of them that feels contentment and control. Before you know it, they will have long moments and stretches of self-discipline. And you will have more peace and harmony in your homes and classrooms!



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