How Montessori offers an effective, respectful approach to discipline

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If education is to prepare our children for life, then we must care about social, emotional and life skills — including self-discipline.

Self-discipline is an important life skill. It refers to our ability to regulate emotions and control behaviors, which impacts all areas of our life. If we cannot resist impulses or cope with distractions in a healthy way, it will be difficult to connect with others, set goals, and persist in the face of adversity. 

If we are self-disciplined, then we can be more successful in our educational and professional endeavors as well as our personal relationships. We will have the confidence to advocate for what we believe is right, and we will have the work ethic to be able to stick to it. 

How do we become self-disciplined?

Self-discipline comes from experience in our environment. All children are capable of becoming disciplined so long as they are provided a learning environment that offers plenty of time to practice impulse control, decision-making, time-management, and conflict-resolution. 

Since Montessori education is designed around child development, self-discipline is integrated into students’ daily experience. Children in a Montessori classroom are given more freedom than a conventional school as well as more limits and guidance than play-based schools. This distinct balance of “freedom within limits” equips children with age-appropriate responsibility that helps them understand how their behaviors and actions affect others and the environment. 

The free movement children experience in a Montessori Children's House promotes natural opportunities to grow more disciplined in how they interact with others and care for the environment.

Discipline is a process of learning; it does not come from punishment or obedience

Montessori education builds the skills for socially-desirable behaviors by honoring discipline as any other life skill that needs to be taught. This rejects misconceptions around discipline as punishment. 

Dr. Maria Montessori advocated for adults to stop confusing a disciplined child as one who merely complies to an adult’s overuse of power. She called for an end to blind obedience, fear-based punishments, or extrinsically-motivated bribery and rewards because these tactics teach compliance, which is not a life skill that leads to the emotional intelligence or work ethic needed for self-discipline. 

Discipline must come through liberty … We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent … He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.”

Dr. Maria Montessori

How discipline is supported in a Montessori classroom

Montessori educators not only serve as positive role models, but they actively teach and encourage socially-desirable behaviors as part of the Grace & Courtesy and Practical Life curriculum. While at school, your child will build inner discipline and related skills like:

  • Patience when they have to wait their turn to use a Montessori material, since there is only one of each set available for the children to choose. 
  • Persistence during long, uninterrupted work periods
  • Prosocial behaviors from caring for their classroom environment
Montessori builds inner discipline by focusing on plentiful life experience for the child to learn from. Discipline is treated as a learning process, not a series of unrelated punishments.

For parents at home 

Children look to the adults in their life for guidance on how to cope with emotions, repair mistakes, and persist through challenges. Instead of punishing undesirable behaviors, it is more effective to teach desirable behaviors. 

However, this is easier said than done if discipline was experienced as punishment in your own upbringing. This is a common experience as current generations of parents have greater access to research-backed guidance on child development than past generations. In order to effectively break generational cycles of discipline as punishment, it can help to arm yourself with tools and resources to support your own learning journey.

Additional parent resources: 

 If values of curiosity, independence, and whole child development speak to you, then Montessori may be the right school choice for your family, too!

N4 Montessori delivers an authentic Montessori education for independence in North Texas

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