A different way to discipline

The Montessori philosophy teaches children respect, writes Nawaal Deane

If you don’t behave I am going to hit you!” How many times have you heard these words from parents trying to discipline their unruly children?

Most teachers and parents use outdated forms of discipline, like shouting, threatening, bribing or resorting to hitting. But they find that in the long run this affects the child emotionally, resulting in insecurity or aggression.

But how do you discipline a child without crushing the child’s spontaneity and uniqueness? The Montessori method has a few ideas to keep in mind the next time you want to shout at a child. The Montessori philosophy looks at discipline in a unique way.
“Discipline must come through liberty,” it says, and “discipline is an indirect result of the life skills and independence we teach a child”.

Misconceptions that parents have are that a “good” child is mute, never in the way or disrupting those around them. According to Montessori, discipline does not mean children are not seen or heard; rather, discipline must cultivate the child’s independence and be a constructive example for the child.

“Discipline should be taught as a series of positive lessons from loving parents who know that their children are basically good, and completely capable of doing the right thing,” says a Montessori teacher.

Respecting a child is the key to disciplining a child. Montessori says children will learn from your behaviour and tend to live up to your expectations or down to your disrespect. “Don’t ask your children to earn respect, assume that they deserve to be respected from the beginning,” according to Montessori. This respect should extend to your child’s interests and activities. Montessori says parents should pay attention to the things which fascinate their children and try to understand them.

In the Montessorri method, children are taught from a young age to be independent. They are given tasks - after the teacher has shown them how to do things that parents would not ordinarily, give them at home - like frying eggs for breakfast.

A child who misbehaves in a Montessori school is never scolded in front of other children, bribed or physically abused. No negative or harsh words are ever uttered. Rather, teachers focus on the behaviour.

In some schools, if a child misbehaves, the teacher will separate the child from the group and place him or her in a chair called the “thinking chair,” where the child must contemplate his or her behaviour. The teacher will then approach the child and ask why he or she was placed in the chair and what part of the behaviour was wrong. The child then comprehends what was wrong and understands that if he or she does it again he or she will be separated from the class. This usually deters the child from repeating the behaviour.

Parents should never shout, lose their tempers, smack, shake or push a child or even speak angrily. They should be pleasant and polite, firm without anger and be able to deal with a misdemeanour with sympathy rather than with punishment. All children should be shown respect, should never be humiliated or laughed at, and their remarks should be listened to seriously and answered thoughtfully and courteously.

“This is the direction which we must take if we wish to create a new humanity because the loving child who feels him- or herself loved has a dynamic character,” according to Montessori.

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg, April 2001.

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