Discipline and obedience is split into 3 different age groups according to Montessori. Each explains the role that plays out in each child’s life and gives us a better understanding of the how to react and deal with their behaviour. The way they act and behave depends on many different aspects, as it does develop and change as time goes on. It is important for a parent, teacher or any care giver of your child to have a basic knowledge of these stages as to not wrongly label a child, and in order to help the child through each stage and successfully meet the next one. For example, may parents will use the word ‘naughty’, something that a child isn’t at all, and actually can’t help their behaviour but it is easy to see the child as ‘disobedient’ when they actually have no self-control yet. In a proper Montessori school you will never hear a directress call a child naughty and neither should you.
Discipline 0-3 years.
Maria Montessori believed that a child’s wrongful and disorderly behaviour are those that he has no control over, this is during the 0-3 year period. As mentioned earlier they should not be labelled but rather helped to regain control of his true self. Once his will has developed, he will be able to have control over these feelings and behaviours and begin to display more publicly acceptable behaviour. At this stage though the control over the will is still being formed and is not yet fully formed.
The child can really only begin to control his inner discipline at approximately 3 years old. Maria Montessori identified 3 levels of obedience, this first one applies to this age.
the level occurs from ages birth to 3 when the child is young and has no self-discipline, and no control over their will and as a result doesn’t have the ability to be obedient. However, the child can be obedient if what is asked of him is in line with what he wants to do. For example ‘let’s watch this program’ the child will obey because it is something he wants to do anyway. The adult, during this first level of obedience should be careful to offer the child options which he will want to comply with, then the child will be obedient as he is exercising his will.
Choices can be offered such as, “you can choose, would you like to eat your breakfast first or get dressed?” Distract the under 3 year old from bad behaviour. Tantrums and unacceptable behaviour are exactly what he has no control over.
To help the young child develop inner/self-discipline, provide activities which will encourage concentration. Concentration is the route to developing inner/self-discipline, which develops from within the child.
When an activity has gained the interest of the child, give him the time and freedom to use the activity for as long as it holds his interest. During this period of concentration it is of the utmost importance that you don`t interfere or interrupt as you will break the child`s concentration. In our Montessori environment we will never distract a child from an activity they are engaged in unless they are abusing the apparatus.
3-6 years old.
The first sign of self-discipline is the child`s ability to control their actions, from the approximate age of three years. Control over thoughts comes later.
“The second level of obedience (3 – 6 years) is when the child can always obey, or rather, when there are no longer any obstacles deriving from his lack of control. His powers are now consolidated and can be directed not only by his own will, but by the will of another”, (Maria Montessori).
By the age of three the child has developed some self-discipline, as a result of this the child has gained some control over his will and now has the ability to be obedient in many cases, even if it is something which he doesn`t want to do.
However, the three year old`s self-discipline is still incomplete and he will have lapses and lose control over his will, don`t count on consistent co-operation just yet.
Control over the will is only possible once self-discipline is developed. This comes about slowly through concentration on an activity done by the hand, (not through watching TV).
As the child grows, the way we handle unacceptable behaviour needs to evolve. In the period from birth to 3 years distraction and choices are offered. When the child reaches the age of three years he is able, in most cases to follow instructions but don`t expect tasks to be carried out immediately.
Keep consequences short in the time when you really need to use them and the child really hasn’t shown any sign of co-operation. For example in our environment we use the thinking chair. A good rule is to give the child a 3 minute time out if he is three years old, a 4 minute time out if he is 4 years old etc.,
The child`s bedroom should not be used as the time out place as this should remain a warm, happy and inviting area. Rather use a chair in the sitting room or in a quiet place where the child will sit for the appropriate amount of minutes and not be distracted. When he has calmed down discuss the unacceptable behaviour.
Maria Montessori`s third level of obedience is when the child, “responds promptly and with enthusiasm as he perfects himself in the exercise, he finds happiness in being able to obey”, (Maria Montessori).
From the approximate age of 6 years the child enters the third level of obedience, this is when the child joyfully pre-empts requests from those he admires and respects. This is where even before being asked to do something specific, the child sees your pen that dropped on the floor, will pick it up before you have asked or even suggested asking.
The child who has attained this level of obedience understands his role and actively looks for ways to obey the wishes of his teacher or parent. However, the 6 year old still wants to explore and experiment and this could mean that they will disobey the adult at times.
The child may disobey out of frustration and anger.
As an adult, getting angry and lecturing are not helpful, rather give simple explanations and explain the consequences of the action. Be consistent and calm, (not always easy I know).
At this age the child is beginning to know right from wrong, but can still be `led astray` by his friends. At times the 6 year old will still focus on what they want rather than the right way to behave.
Children can only obey if they clearly understand what is being asked of them. Try addressing your child with respect. If you show them respect, your child will respond to you and to others in the same way.
If your child disobeys the rules allow him a second chance. Providing the child with a second chance will encourage him to do the right thing the next time.