How to Discipline Effectively in a Montessori Environment

“We must lift children up, not pound them into the ground, we must view their negatives as positives and their flaws as gifts,” my instructor spoke about Montessori discipline.

I nodded ferociously.  Yes, yes, yes! At that moment, I wanted to climb on top of the table scream, “Can I get an Amen, friends?”

My mom always used to say “let’s not and say we did”. So, I took her advice and didn’t jump onto the table. However, I did close my eyes, smile a refreshing smile, and let out a deep sigh of relief.

Related Read: 15 of the Best Montessori Quotes for Parents

I was a new mom in my Montessori training and suddenly “it” all made sense.

Dr. Montessori believed in the power of positive discipline and positive communication in a child’s world. I am grateful to her.

What is Positive Discipline?

The key tenets of positive discipline overlap with the Montessori theory. For example, the approach rests on mutual respect, desires self-sufficiency, and focuses on allowing children to take ownership of their behavior. The approach also takes a long term point of view, much like that of the work that goes into early childhood lessons.

It will come to fruition later in development. Failure is ultimately a necessary part of the journey. The focus is on effort and encouragement as opposed to product and praise.

Positive discipline focuses on the positives of the behavior. For example, a child is jumping on a couch and you want her to stop. You might say, “I notice you enjoy jumping, but please jump on the trampoline.” Or a child desires a cookie, you might say, in a kind yet firm tone, “Yes, you may have a cookie after dinner.” 

You want to understand what’s behind the negative behavior and address that issue. In addition, positive discipline has a lot to do with controlling your emotions. Furthermore, by attending to the behavior that you like or that is “positive”, you reinforce the behavior. Finally, you want to be consistent and always follow through on your response. 

Both communication and conflict resolution is central to a positive discipline approach. This, again, is similar to Montessori especially within the context of the peace lessons, such as the peace rose.

Montessori Discipline 101

When an environment is nearer chaos than discipline, the adult must do one of two things. The guide must 1) observe or 2) give individual lessons/one on one time. Free choice is the ultimate goal. However, free choice cannot be utilized if a child lacks the strength of will and inner discipline. He will respond to every stimulus in his environment. He cannot yet obey his inner guide.

The guide observes the child. She knows when to intervene to direct the child back to an activity that suits his development. If the child is not treating material properly, then the guide will redirect the child to end that work. Perhaps he was not ready to complete that work. Or perhaps he needs another lesson on that work. The child learns respect through these experiences.

To Intervene or Not to Intervene?

A teacher should never interfere with a child’s work with praise or punishment. If this happens, a child will feel inadequate. He will believe can’t guide himself. This, his self-esteem and motivation suffer. In the end, he is discouraged. The teacher prepares spiritually, and then she must focus on giving lessons. From there the child leads his learning to experience. He leads with his own “hands” and with a “control of error” built into the works to enable auto-education.

Discipline in a Montessori Environment

The teacher‘s role is to observe and to recognize when to intervene to direct the child back to an activity that suits his development. A child can only improve himself if given the opportunity to practice by his own will for extended periods of time.  It is much better it is to recognize my mistakes and then correct them. If anything is likely to make the character indecisive, it is the inability to control matters without having to seek advice.

This begets a discouraging sense of inferiority and a lack of confidence in one’s self.  Errors correct themselves in time and with practice. Their existence is unavoidable in life for always. Even in science, the goal is twofold. First, to measure a precise figure, and second, to measure the extent to which that figure could be wrong or deviate from that “precise figure”.

Discipline Resources to Check Out:

Marnie Craycroft

Marnie hails from Maine where she spent summers buried in sand and winters buried in snow. She is the daughter of a nearly four decade veteran of the public school systems. Teaching has always been a part of her life. She founded Carrots Are Orange in 2010.

Carrots Are Orange is a Montessori learning and living website for parents and teachers.

Marnie graduated from Wesleyan University in 1999 with a BA in Economics. She spent nearly a decade working in investment management. In 2006, she earned her MA in business from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Marnie moved to the west coast in 1999 and currently lives in Boulder with her husband and three sons. She is Montessori trained. Her work has been featured on Apartment Therapy, Buzzfeed, PBS Kids, BabyCenter, the Melissa & Doug blog, Huffington Post, and Besides writing, passions include running (usually after her three sons), photography, and outdoor adventures.

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