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The Path to Inner Discipline

Discipline. A word on every parent’s lips. Today, the subject of discipline seems to be amongst the most debatable subjects (– along with technology, meal times and over scheduling). When one comes to define discipline, the initial thought would be that it is a way of teaching the child how to behave and showing the child what is and what isn’t accepted. Yes, but it comes down to how you do it. There are many approaches when it comes to discipline, yet there are two that you hear most often. Some say that adults should treat children in the way that they themselves would like to be treated and provide them with an understanding of why they must obey. Others disagree and claim that children do not know how to behave and it is up to the adult to show how this is done and that the child’s job is to obey and follow instructions. A noisy and opinionated discussion, so which one works the best?

Montessori has an approach to discipline, where she speaks of self-discipline routing from within the child and how through proper support and work the child can begin to develop obedience. “Obedience is seen as something which develops in the child in much the same way as other aspects of his character” Montessori also stressed that discipline is “born” within the child when the child is allowed to concentrate on purposeful activities, which lead her to develop her ‘prepared environments’. These consisted of equipment and activities proportioned to the child’s size and designed to meet the interests from the ages of 0 to 6, with a practitioner that understands their importance of being a role model who also allows positive reinforcement and discussion. In this environment, the child engages in purposeful, real-life activities under their gaze and guidance that allow the development of concentration, and, later on, the development of self-discipline.

Positive discipline is a philosophy that helps the child to develop a conscience guided by their own internal discipline and compassion for others. Positive discipline has its grounds in a secure, trusting and connected relationship between adult and child. Discipline that is empathic, loving and respectful helps strengthen the attachment between the adult and the child whilst harsh discipline tends to weaken this attachment. As mentioned above, we should keep in mind that the ultimate goal of discipline is to help the child develop their self-control and self-discipline. The child needs to know why something is not appropriate and choose not to do it, instead of not doing it because they are afraid.

Offering Choices

When a child is offered choices instead of commands, you are less likely to end up with a ‘no’ answer that will lead to a power struggle. Try to provide the child with two choices which of course you are OK with and allow them to make their choice. These choices do not have to be complicated and can be something as simple as ‘Would you rather wear your shoes first or your jacket before we go?’ This will ensure you leave the house must sooner in opposed to ‘hurry up, we’re late, etc.’

Creating a positive Environment

Children have a natural instinct to explore their environment as a form of learning. Therefore it is important that they are given an environment that fosters this need and does not consist of too many no-no’s. How many times have you said “please don’t play in that area you will break the vase. Please don’t bang my pots, they are not drums”. I appreciate that indeed vases and pots can be very precious but what are we doing to answer our child’s needs? The key here is to offer them their own positive environment by keeping all breakable/precious items away. This can be as simple as sparing an extra draw in the kitchen with their own cooking pots to bang on whilst you take your time to cook. By doing this you are avoiding the use of "no" and "don’t" and are encouraging positive behaviour through natural exploration.

Defining emotions and respecting emotions

As feelings are usually the root to all reactions in childhood, it is important we teach our children how to describe what they are feeling, before we ask them how to control it. When a child is crying or having a meltdown for something we consider absurd, what we may not realise is that the child has no words to actually express what they need and is therefore acting in the only way they know how. "How are you feeling?" is an enormously abstract question when a child may not understand what you mean by feeling, and additionally so if you have not got the vocabulary to support the answer. Taking time to talk to the child and help express themselves can be very helpful. This can be done with something as simple as expressing yourself during everyday events and/or even by using an emotion chart (best for younger child) that will help them put a name to a feeling. For example a picture of a child that is crying will help realise that this child is sad. Both aspects will enrich their emotions vocabulary whilst also teaching them how to appropriately express themselves.

Reading between the lines

It's easy to ignore negative behaviour, but it is more rewarding to observe what it is rooted in. Is it an everyday thing? Does it happen all the time or at a specific time of the day? What was the spark? Ask yourself these questions before jumping to conclusions. Trying to find out what may be bothering the child or leading them to act out will not only help the child work through their strong emotions but will also show them that feelings are important. Through this you are role modelling the importance of considering others and their feelings. A simple example could be that during dinner time your child does not want to eat a specific food and starts crying. Before becoming upset with your child consider why they may be upset. Is it simply because the food is "yucky"? Or, perhaps it is a sensory issue? Perhaps they have a sensitive pallet? Perhaps there is a gum pain that they cannot express to you? Observe your child and talk about what may be bothering them and try to guide them to the answer -- open ended, useful questions.

Allow natural consequence

Think of situation where a child is playing with a toy and suddenly decides to throw it across the room. The toy is now broken. As an adult you may feel compelled to show the child that you are clearly upset about what they have done and may even decide that the child face consequences. What we may not realise in the heat of the moment is that the child has already faced a consequence -- the natural consequence of losing their toy. An approach such as "I’m sorry you are upset that your toy is broken, next time let’s try and be more gentle with our toys" is far more affective instead of asking them to sit on a chair in order to think of what has happened.

Avoiding labelling and trying to work together

Whilst discussing with fellow adults a phrase I often hear is "my child is so naughty!’’. Why do we choose to label our children instead of trying to find the reason behind certain behaviours? A child is not naughty, their behaviour may be "naughty" (again just a label for a certain behaviour). Yet why is it that we choose to highlight a child’s inappropriate behaviours by shaming them? When we choose to do so what we are actually doing is breaking the child’s confidence and self-esteem rather than encouraging it to grow. Shaming a child will not help them change a certain behaviour but rather motivate them to continue or even extended a certain behaviour. Instead you could try working with the child, help them initially express what they are feeling, locate the problem and finally find work together in order to find a solution to what may be bothering them. As mentioned above, acknowledging the child’s feelings is key in all cases of discipline.

Learning to use positive discipline may not come easy for some, especially for those who were raised in a more traditional environment. Even though these are only some simple examples of how we can encourage positive discipline, an online search will provide you with a wider range of information. I ensure you that if you consider using even some of the above suggested ways you will see a difference in the connection you foster with your child.


Natasha is part of the Little Gems Montessori Larnaca team having graduated in Summer 2016. She trained at Montessori Centre International and received outstanding results across her diploma. Natasha has recently given birth to her second daughter and is currently on maternity leave, and we look forward to her joining us soon in the Autumn.

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