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/)

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