Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The question I get most often from parents is how to "discipline" their children (read: correct/punish/make them stop). Or the "What do I do when my child does...?" (please see my previous post of that title, written by my friend Jill Wilson). What I want to cover in this post is BEFORE your child does XYZ, that causes you to search out my advice. And the answer is so easy, yet so hard because it is simply not done very often in our society.

Most of any "problem" a child has is caused by a lack of self-discipline. How does a child have self-discipline?  The key way is to allow your children to just BE. They are then allowed to listen to their own inner cues, which every child has from birth. They do not need adults telling them when and how to do things, it is in the genes. When an adult interferes with this inner guide, the child doubts it and becomes dependent on the adult. Then the child has no choice but to only take external cues, like adults. They have no judgement on their own, it has been usurped by the adult. Children are at a true advantage when they can still follow their inner-guide in their 0-6 years, after that the voice becomes so buried it is difficult to find again (not impossible, just difficult). When a child follows his or her inner guide they are engaged, and engaged children almost never need external discipline. This does not mean abandonment, but adults in a child's life should assume their proper role. A guide (hence, why Montessori teachers are called this).

Here are the main things you can do to foster self-discipline in your child:

-include your child in the runnings of your household, as far as their interests and abilities allow. If you are making dinner, doing laundry, raking leaves, etc, allow help. Children are FAR more interested in doing this than in any toy or television show. Make them responsible for themselves and their actions.

-allow your children to be bored. In their "boredom" they will learn how to occupy themselves. A hugely necessary and undervalued skill.

-allow you child to be heartbroken, to be disappointed, to cry, to not get their way, to struggle and be frustrated, and to be upset with you. Bonus points if you allow them to see you feeling those same things. No person is happy all of the time. Children need to see that emotions, even strong emotions, are ok. By needing to have children that are "happy" (read: never upset) we are signalling to them that that is how life is. They do not learn the valuable skills needed to cope with those feelings and rise above them.

-put yourself on the list. Many parents do not have a minute to themselves because they must always entertain their child. You have my permission to indulge yourself in a shower, maybe even a luxurious bubble bath. Ooo, read a book! Tell your child(ren) that you are taking some time for yourself and while you do they are to be playing. Then do it, mess be darned. If they try to suck you into their play, remind them you are having time to yourself. This will give them the opportunity to HAVE to learn to entertain themselves. CAVEAT: No television permitted. If you have a fenced in backyard have them just be outside playing, set an art studio up in the kitchen (where the tile can be easily cleaned by them). The key here is open ended explorations so that they do not become bored with the activity. If this is a rarity in your house, you may have to wean your children off of being constantly entertained. Start with fifteen minutes and then work your way up. But, if they are still exploring, by all means, do not interrupt. Do not interrupt for anything, including dinner, bedtime, or cuddles. Their inner guide will tell them when they are done and ready to eat/sleep/be cuddled.

-When you are with them, be with them. As much as possible: no phone, internet, iPad, etc. Be present in their world, open to looking at things through their eyes, having new experiences for you too. Play family games, fly a kite, build blanket forts, go on a bike ride, watch a movie together (my dd is going through a Rocky stage with dh right now). The possibilities are endless.

-scrap toys. I know that if you really think about it, your child spends very little time with toys. So get rid of them. They are something that we adults think children like, but they do not occupy children for very long at all. Why? Because children are uninterested in them. Instead, do projects. Sometimes you can join in the fun, sometimes they can do it on their own. These can be from things you have laying around (recycled crafts, anyone?), art projects, or using open-ended more traditional toys such as Legos, Tinker Toys, K'Nex, etc. The general guideline is: if there are batteries or a preset way it is supposed to be played with, scrap it!

-notice television, computers, and other technologies aren't on this list? Talk about not occupying their time! Childrens' brains aren't ready for these until the second plane of development, after age 6. They need more active brain connections, not passive ones. So, if you are not doing it as family time, scrap the technology.

If you follow your child, they will respond. You will see any problems, what we in Montessori call deviations, melt away.

Great blogs about letting children be:
The Boy with No Toys: http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/02/20/the-boy-with-no-toys/)
Be outside (see: http://www.childrenandnature.org/)
The Hands Free Mama: http://www.handsfreemama.com/)

What do I do when my child...? by Jill Wilson

I am not sure where I found this, but it is wonderful. Jill Wilson is a friend and Montessorian from Cincinnati and I wanted to share her very wise words.

“What do I do when my child_________?”
By: Jill Wilson

Whenever I have questions regarding my child-rearing practices, I turn to the writings of Dr. Montessori. I am always amazed that when I search her writings with a specific question, the answer appears as if  I’ve never read that passage before and then I see how it all so beautifully fits.

This month, my search was about discipline in the home. A topic amongst a group of parents was “What do I do when my child...” It seemed many parents were looking for that magical consequence/punishment/ action that they could take that would change that child’s actions and attain immediate obedience. In my research, I came across a short passage that Dr. Montessori wrote titled “Rewards and Punishments.” (The Secret of Childhood, p. 122-23) And, as usual, the simplicity and brilliancy of it blew me away. The passage, only 3 paragraphs long, ends with, “Eventually we gave up either punishing or rewarding the children.” That one sentence holds such a profound meaning in today’s culture where thousands of books are published on how to use punishments and rewards to discipline children. And for those of you who attended the Cincinnati Montessori Society Spring 2011 Conference, you heard Alfie Kohn’s keynote and/or breakout sessions regarding the current research about punishments and rewards. Yet another example of how Dr. Montessori had it all figured out over 100 years ago and we are just now catching up!

How do we answer the question, “What do I do when my child...?” There isn’t a steadfast rule that can apply to all children in all situations all of the time. The question, I believe, that first must be asked is: “what is the relationship like between the adult and the child?” A deep respect for the child, his needs and processes, must be present for an adult to begin to work together with the child to solve the conflict at hand. A child’s needs and processes in that moment must always be taken into consideration. Many adults tend to get off track through their verbal communications with the child.

Respectful communication starts at birth. Promptly attend to the child that has something to say – even a “goo-goo-gaa” from a newborn deserves to be answered. Acknowledge what the child has said, “Oh, you’d like me to put on your shoes?” Or sometimes there is an emotion that needs to be acknowledged, too, “You sound very frustrated that you can’t get your shoe on.” Then respond in an appropriate manner, “Would you like some help tying your shoes?” Or “Yes, I am happy to help you with that.” These are all parts of a conversation with a child where the child can trust that he is being heard, understood and feel safe about it – a key to a strong relationship.

For example, when a child falls down, bumps a knee and starts to cry, many adults tend to pick them up and soothe them by saying “Oh, you’re okay. You’re okay.” But that quite contradicts the child’s experience. From his perspective, he fell down, he is hurt, and he is not okay. Instead, the adult can promptly attend to the child, kneel down next to him with a hand on his back, and establish a connection so the child knows the adult is there. The adult could then acknowledge what has happened, “Oh, you fell down. It sounds like you are hurt!” And then respond appropriately, “How can I help you? Would you like me to pick you up? Can I rub your knee?

Praise is another form of communication that can actually inhibit a relationship between an adult and child. It may be surprising to know that Marshall Rosenberg, founder of the Center for NonViolent Communication, considers “praise and compliments violent forms of communication. Because they are part of the language of domination, it is one passing judgment on another.” (www.cnvc.org) Even something as simple as “good job,” is praise and is detrimental to the adult/child relationship – and the development of the child himself! (see Alfie Kohn’s article Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job,” http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm)

Instead of praise, focus on encouragement. This chart by Taylor (1979) describes the difference.


stimulates rivalry and competition
focuses on quality of performance
evaluative and judgmental; person feels “judged”
fosters selfishness at the expense of others
emphasis on global evaluation of the person-”You are better than others.”
creates quitters
fosters fear of failure
fosters dependence


stimulates cooperation and contribution for the good of all
focuses on amount of effort and joy
little or no evaluation of person or act; person feels “accepted”
fosters self-interest, which does not hurt others
emphasis on specific contributions -”You have helped in this way.”
creates triers
fosters acceptance of being imperfect
fosters self-sufficiency and independence

Encouraging statements sound more like observations:

“Look at how you put the blue and yellow paint in circles on your paper.”
“You look very proud that you were able to do that puzzle.”
“They way you put the blocks away helped me clean up the room faster.”
“You did it!”

Initiate a conversation/ask questions:

“What part of your drawing do you like best?
“How did you figure out how to put that puzzle piece in?”
“How did you feel when you gave your friend part of your snack?”
“Tell me more.”

Sometimes even just repeating what the child says can be encouraging:

“Yes, that is a hard puzzle.”
“I know that hurts when you fall down.”
“You found the basket.”

Remember that many times NOTHING is the best response. Allow the child to bask in his own enjoyment and pride of his accomplishment - with no interruptions.

Often, adults tend to “over-talk.” This consists of any kind of communication that is, in fact, unnecessary. For instance, being over-directive: “Put the plate in the dishwasher,” as the child is already on the way to the dishwasher (as a mother, I catch myself being over-directive without even realizing it). Or it could even be giving too much detail or directions when the child does not need it: “Go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, get your pajamas on and go to your bedroom.” In fact, an older child only needs to hear, “It is time to get ready for bed.” Another example is intervening with a child when they haven’t asked for help. When my son struggles with a task and I hear him making those frustrating sounds, I resist the urge to offer my help. I may position myself a bit closer so he knows I’m there, but I wait for him to ask for what he needs – and most of the time he doesn’t need help at all. He works through the problem, through his frustration and solves it on his own. What valuable lessons are learned for us both in those moments!

Back to the original question, “What do I do when my child {jumps on the couch, for example}?” The conversation can follow the same pattern as mentioned earlier. Attend to the child. Go to where the child is, go to his level to make eye contact and establish a connection with the child. Acknowledge the action. “I see you have a lot of energy today and want to do some jumping.” Then respond. “This couch is not designed to be jumped on. It would be easy for you to fall off and get hurt and it could damage the couch by breaking the springs inside. Let’s take a walk around our house and find a safer place to jump. Do you have any ideas?” Work together with the child to find a solution, building an even stronger and more cooperative relationship.

When the relationship between the adult and child is based upon mutual respect, together the two will be naturally guided to the true meaning of discipline…

Discipline is from the Latin word disciplinare, which means to teach –
without any need for rewards or punishments.

Again, we thank you, Dr. Maria Montessori!

Suggested Reading list for establishing strong adult/child relationships:
 Coloroso, Barbara. Kids are Worth It. New York: HarperCollins, 2002
 Gerber, Magda. Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect. LA: Resources for Infant Educarers, 2002
 Ginott, Dr. Haim G. Between Parent and Child. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003
 Ginott, Dr. Haim G. Teacher and Child. New York: Macmillan, 1972
 Kohn, Alfie. Unconditional Parenting. New York: Atria Books, 2005
 Kohn, Alfie. Punished by Rewards. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993
 Montanaro, Silvana Quattrocchi. Understanding the Human Being. Mountain View: Nienhuis Montessori, 1991
 Montessori, Dr. Maria. The Secret of Childhood. New York: Ballantine, 1981
 Montessori, Dr. Maria. The Child in the Family. Oxford: Clio Press, 2004