Crystal Madrilejos

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On Family

Montessori Parenting: Discipline vs. Punishment


Q is at a stage (he’ll be five next month) where he is very, very… challenging. Andrew and I feel we’ve tried so many ways of helping him cope with anxiety and frustrations, and sometimes it feels like we’re failing miserably.

The other week, Andrew and I attended a Montessori parenting group discussion at Q’s school that had a lot of great ideas that I thought would make a good blog series, with the first post introducing the general concept of Discipline vs. Punishment.

As I mentioned in my previous post on the Montessori Method, the teaching techniques are very centered around the child being self-motivated. So, it makes sense that the Montessori parenting style focuses on “internalizing in order to self-discipline”. By emphasizing discipline rather than punishment we’re teaching our children the “what to do” and not just the “what not to do.” Part of the internalization process requires them to experience the consequences of their behavior and learn how to make better choices.

Disciple is set of rules that govern a person’s behavior and conduct

  • Helps the child to shape and mold their own attitudes and behaviors over the years.
  • Should involve respect, support and encouragement as well as communication boundaries.

“To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control, is to betray the idea of freedom,” – Maria Montessori

Punishment imposes external controls by force on children to change their behavior

Discipline must come through liberty. We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined. -Maria Montessori

Discipline teaches:

  • self-control and self-concept
  • empathetic behavior patterns and how to interact with others
  • problem solving to get their needs met
  • a way to internalize all the above and allow them to become self-disciplined

This sounds all well and good, but I imagine a lot of parents read this and shake their head and say “good luck with that” – believe me, I understand. During the presentation, I kept looking at Andrew with this feeling like he was rolling his eyes on the inside, thinking “yeah, right.” Since he is the one who stays home with them, he gets the full brunt of Q (and Ellis’) tantrums and it’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. With that said, one of the things the teachers emphasized over and over was that no one is perfect, we’ve all found ourselves in a highly emotional situation with our kids where we might not have been our best-selves. And that’s okay!

So what does that all mean in practice?

In upcoming posts, I’ll elaborate more on specific ways of focusing on discipline rather than punishment, but here are some simple ideas to think about:

  • Hold your kid to a high standard and they will rise to expectations
    • If you never expect your kid to treat others with love and kindness, to be grateful and empathetic, then chances are they won’t be.
  • Seek consistency and clarity
    • I struggle with this the most (Andrew, less so) because getting through the day is based very much on my mood. It’s hard for me to put on a “happy face” if I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed, and on those days everything follows the path of least resistance, which can give conflicting messages to my kids about their boundaries. I’m working on it.
  • Catch children “doing something right”
    • Rather than only the things they do wrong.
  • Be respectful of them as human beings and always show love.

I’m definitely of the mindset that parents should trust their instincts. If you can honestly say as a parent you’ve never felt at your wits end, then more power to you. However, I feel that way almost daily! So, I’m very open to advice because I realize that I don’t have all the answers and it’s important to learn from one another (it takes a village, right?). I know for me, it helps to know that I’m not alone in my struggle.

Do you focus on discipline vs. punishment? What has worked for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. stephanie - February 7, 2015 2:16 pm

    We have struggled with this some as well. Our oldest is very stubborn and could care less if he was spanked or put in time out. We have found that talking about making good choices is helpful and really try to point out when he makes a good choice. Our consequences when he does misbehave are usually chores (we have a bucket with things written down that he picks from) or not letting him play with friends that day. I am with you in that it feels like a constant struggle!

    • Crystal - February 7, 2015 9:35 pm

      Thanks Stephanie. Time outs seem to work for us most of the time, at least in terms of giving him some time and space to calm down. It really is a constant struggle and seems like when you get over one stage, it’s onto another one!

  2. tara - February 7, 2015 6:39 pm

    Love this :) We do not focus on punishment. Punishment, external force, creates fear. Fear hides undesirable behavior. We strive to foster an environment that encourages an internal desire to do right. so that, even when there is no chance of being caught, we are doing the right thing. My faith also plays a role in the way that I parent. I am Christian and I believe that God is gracious – and that I am to be a reflection of that grace – model it for my children. We are human, we make mistakes. We show grace to ourselves and others when we mess up. We yell…we apologize and brainstorm ways to do better. We focus on preventing and setting ourselves up for success (especially important with our kiddo that has food sensitivities that make it hard for him to control his behavior). We take care of our bodies with healthy food, exercise, and rest, because when we don’t it can leave us short-tempered, unable to focus, and easily frustrated. We strive daily for 15 minutes of 1:1 interaction (without sibs), and I can tell when this isn’t being done because the kids definitely start competing for attention…with negative obnoxious behavior. I search for creative solutions to issues that we have. Sensory activities, big muscle movement, role play, lots of “let’s try again.” Mostly, my kids just know I’m human and I hope that by my owning up to my shortfalls and apologizing, they know that they don’t have to be perfect either, and learn how to make amends when they fall short. It’s beautiful to me, in part, *because* it’s challenging <3

    • Crystal - February 7, 2015 9:48 pm

      Thanks Tara for your thoughtful response. You make many good points! Taking into consideration what might be causing the negative behavior is so important. Lack of sleep, boredom, hungry, illness… these things cause adults to not act like their best-selves, so why not kids? Thank you for the reminder that there’s no other challenge in the world that is more rewarding :)

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