The word discipline often may be associated negatively with the word punishment, however, in the Montessori environment, this is not the case. Dr. Montessori saw discipline as behavioral characteristics that go hand-in-hand with freedoms. She believed with the development of inner discipline, or the ability to self-regulate behaviors, then the child is open to the freedoms of choice within their environment. All persons (children and adults) should have a balance of freedom and discipline to live together in community. We enjoy the freedom and respect to make our own choices as individuals, but we must also consider how these choices may effect the rights of the group or other persons–thus self-discipline is so important.
To help develop a child’s self-discipline, we much teach them how to be reflective of their actions and behaviors, especially when it may impact others. In helping the child to reflect on their behaviors, we are respecting that they are capable of making better choices, rather than the adult just demanding or telling them what to or what not to do.
A little while ago, I heard a lecture given by Chip DeLorenzo, and he described the process that he uses with children as similar to the Socratic Method of questioning. I thought this was a fantastic analogy and I would like to share his thoughts and examples with you.
When a child engages in some type of behavior that warrants change, he uses these “how” and “what” questions to reflect with the child (in the most calm and patient tone you can muster up in the moment!):
1. “I noticed you _______; OR I’m not sure what happened, but I am here to help.”
2. “Can you tell me what happened? OR What caused ____ to happen?”
3. “How do you feel about what happened?”
4. “What did you learn from this experience?”
5. “What’s your plan? OR What might be some next steps you can take?”
6. “How can I help you with this?”
With this approach, we are fostering the child’s ability to recognize his own actions and consequences and then empowering the child to resolve the situation rather than just being told what to do.
As the adult, it is key that you are modeling inner discipline as well! Try your best to remain calm, sincere, and empathetic. If a child is worked up (or you might be too), first be sure both of you (parent and child) are in a place to listen and discuss before engaging in this reflective dialogue. If needed, take deep breathes together, offer hugs, and/or validate feelings (“I can see you are sad/angry/frustrated. When your body feels ready, we can talk”).
As a parent, be patient with yourself as you work on this method and work through this process together. For some, it may take a little time before you see results, but try and try again, just as we encourage our children to do!
Here are some other great resources on this topic: