Montessori discipline might look a bit different than a more traditional approach. Without any background knowledge, this method of discipline might appear a bit too relaxed.
However, if you observe a family or classroom that uses this approach, you might be surprised to discover that the children respond quite well to Montessori discipline methods.
What is Montessori discipline?
Montessori discipline is not a technical term by any means. There are no specific “rules” when it comes to using discipline in a Montessori environment.
With that being said, Maria Montessori did record quite a few observations that have led to the development of some general guidelines that most Montessori families and schools use to guide their discipline.
Montessori discipline methods are comparable to those used in a positive parenting environment. While many of these methods vary from a more traditional approach, they are becoming increasingly common in a diverse number of home and school settings today.
Some pillars of Montessori discipline:
- Eliminates the use of punishment
- Sets consistent, firm boundaries
- Treats children as equals with parents as a guide
- Models behavior by example
- Provides opportunities for problem solving
- Allows children to process their own emotions
- Focuses on internal motivation rather than rewards/bribes
- Labels, acknowledges and defines emotions
The biggest difference between a Montessori discipline style and a more traditional method is the lack of punishment, bribes and rewards. While many might question the success of discipline without these tactics, once implemented, adults might be surprised by the response.
Here are a few ways you can incorporate a Montessori style of discipline in your home. Whether you’ve disciplined for years in a very different manner or are just learning with your first child, these tactics are practical and easy to implement.
While each child is certainly very different, meeting them where they are, acknowledging their feelings, and working together to understand what went wrong is key for continued success.
9 Ways to Incorporate Montessori Discipline
- Provide freedom within limits with clear, consistent boundaries
- Acknowledge the emotion of the child
- Allow quiet time for children to calm down and/or process
- Work with the child to solve problems
- Practice respectful communication both ways
- Demonstrate or assist the child with making amends
- Explain why certain limits exist
- Help the child understand the consequences of their actions
- Ask the child how those effected might be feeling
Regardless of how well you understand and know the pillars of Montessori discipline, you’ll never be able to incorporate these methods without practice, adjustment and real life experience.
Understanding why positive discipline is used in a Montessori setting is helpful as you get started, but all the knowledge in the world can’t make up for lack of experience.
10 Tips to Discipline the Montessori Way
Montessori discipline is likely going to feel a bit unnatural or challenging when you’re just getting started, but with a little time and practice, you’ll find that both you and your child adapt quite well.
Here are a few simple tips to make the adjustment to Montessori discipline feel a bit easier and more natural.
Create a safe environment
The thought of giving your kids freedom is a bit scary at any age – but especially when they are little. In order to provide your child with the appropriate amount of freedom and responsibility, you’ll need to create a safe and fully child-proof environment.
Once your home or classroom is set up in a safe way, you will be able to let your children take on as much as they feel comfortable without worrying that they could get hurt. The less you feel the need to interject, the more you are able to demonstrate your trust in them and avoid a typical “authoritarian” role.
Provide meaningful choices
Most conflicts or tantrums from young children are a result of them feeling as if they are not getting what they want in the moment. One way that Montessori discipline attempts to reduce these conflicts is by providing children with pre-approved choices.
Allowing your child to choose helps them feel as if they are in control. These choices allow them to assert themselves in the situation and ensure that they are able to get what they want. By selecting choices ahead of time, you’ll feel comfortable knowing that whatever your child chooses is already approved and acceptable, helping avoid any battles.
Emphasize the effect of actions
Montessori discipline avoids the typical “because I said so” response and instead emphasizes the need to help children understand. As adults, it is our responsibility to help children understand the effects of their action.
Explaining to them why certain activities or actions are not allowed helps build their understanding. Taking the time to help them see how their actions might affect others allows them to develop a sense of empathy, improving their desire for self-control
Simplify the situation
Many battles between adults and young children occur because the child is placed in a situation that is overwhelming or too stimulating. These types of situations can be avoided by simplifying the environment.
Simplicity is key for young children, in just about every aspect of their lives. Simplify the choices they receive, the expectations, the directions, the task, and the activity. Providing one step at a time or one choice at a time helps children develop a sense of autonomy without feeling overwhelmed or out of control.
Be a role model
It has been proven time and time again that children learn by example. What they see, they do. This applies not only to actions, but the way adults handle emotions and relationships as well. We cannot expect children to control their own emotions if we ourselves are having meltdowns in front of them.
However, that’s not to say that we need to be perfect in order to use Montessori discipline methods. Acknowledging mistakes and offering apologies is so important for children to see as well. If you find that something is triggering, take a moment to go calm down. Treat others with respect; if you cross a boundary in any relationship – make it right.
Provide a calm-down area
It is inevitable that children are going to have meltdowns, fights or tantrums at some point. No matter how diligent we are about creating a calm environment, all children get overwhelmed at some point.
When these moments do arise, rather than immediately reprimanding or punishing, Montessori discipline methods suggest providing time and space for the child to calm down. Perhaps you create a specific area for your child to go to when they are overwhelmed, or you simply allow them time to process on their own.
Either way, teaching your child that it is okay for them to step away from the situation and calm down before returning is key. Try providing calming activities such as coloring or teaching them breathing techniques to calm their anger.
Help create a positive self-image
When children are continuously told that they are bad, crazy, wrong or aggressive, they begin to believe it. Before long, they act this way because it has become who they believe they are.
Remind yourself that children are usually only acting on what they know. Their little life experience combined with a developing brain can cause them to make the wrong choice every once and a while. In these moments, it’s important that they adult not believe this defines who they are.
Help them develop a positive character and self-image by emphasizing their positive traits. Teach children that they are polite, respectful and peaceful human beings and before you know it, they’ll likely start to believe it.
Focus on age-appropriate activities
Similar to simplifying, providing age-appropriate activities helps avoid any meltdowns that might occur due to feelings of frustration, inadequacy or shame.
Montessori discipline methods involve a calmer, quite level of intervention. It has been shown that children thrive when they are faced with challenges that are just slightly outside of their current level of mastery.
Expecting a one year old to keep up on a walk with their four year old sibling will likely lead to a meltdown. Asking a child to complete a 15 piece puzzle when they have yet to master three pieces will set them up to fail. Whenever possible, provide age-appropriate activities. If it’s not possible, be sure to adjust your expectations.
Say yes whenever possible
Children are constantly being told no in our society. No, they can’t have another cookie; no, they can’t choose their own outfit; no, they can’t play outside at lunchtime.
In a Montessori environment, children are told yes whenever possible. Adults are encouraged to evaluate the reasoning behind the “no”: is it truly unsafe/unhealthy, or is it just inconvenient?
Allowing your child to dress themselves might take and extra 20 minutes, but it certainly does no harm to the child. Switching up your daily schedule might throw off your own rhythm, but might result in some creative play. Whenever possible, say yes. This will help children understand that when you say no, there is a reason for it.
Learn your own triggers
In order to model appropriate behavior, we need to ensure that we are not faced with moments which cause us to meltdown in front of our children. A pillar of the Montessori discipline philosophy is learning your own triggers to avoid feeling stressed or overwhelmed.
Take the time to evaluate what causes you to feel anxious or angry around your children. Discover your triggers and then do your best to avoid them in the future. When triggers are unavoidable, come up with a constructive way to reset or calm yourself down.
We are much more likely to yell, punish and be harsh on our children when we are feeling overwhelmed or angry ourselves.
How to deal with tantrums using Montessori discipline?
For most parents, the first time they are forced to truly make a decision about their method of discipline is when they have to deal with a tantrum. Tantrums or meltdowns are nearly inevitable with children, as they are experiencing big emotions for the first time.
However, there are a few ways to minimize the extent and frequency of tantrums your child experiences. In the Montessori philosophy, adults are always encouraged to try to determine the cause of the tantrum before reacting.
A child might be more inclined for a meltdown or tantrum if:
- They’re hungry, tired or bored
- They’re testing unsure of boundaries
- They don’t truly understand the rules
- They can’t exert independence in the ways they wish
- Their parents model a similar behavior
- They have been rewarded for bad behavior with attention
Positive Discipline Techniques for Tantrums
If you are able to determine the root cause of the tantrum, for example that your child is over-tired, you will better be able to address the behavior. It is important to remember that your child is feeling overwhelmed with big emotions in this moment, and it is your job as the adult to help them process.
With all tantrums or meltdowns, it’s important to give your child the time and tools they need to calm down. If you are in a public space, it can be challenging to simply let your child work out their emotions with other people watching. If you feel more comfortable, leave the space until your child is calm.
Once your child has calmed, acknowledge what they were feeling and why. If it was related to a boundary, explain why that boundary exists and what would happen if they crossed that boundary. Help your child come up with a solution for how they will handle the situation again in the future.
Montessori discipline involves a great deal of patience, but the same can be said for any style of parenting. Holding your child accountable for age appropriate actions, as well as treating them with respect will set you up for success.