First, let me start by saying I often hear parents of my Montessori students tell me something similar, such as: “They only behave for Miss Michelle” or “I tried to be like Miss Michelle but my kids just ignore me.” These parents seem to think that I have a magic wand that I wave and their children are, somehow magically, “good.”
To be sure, there was regression on my son’s part, as well. Consistency was key with him, and as we worked toward a respectful solution, I obtained some helpful tips and tools along the way, and will share a small sampling here in the hope that it provides some assistance for our readers.
Montessori Parenting: Thoughts on Consequences and Positive Discipline TechniquesJane Nelsen (Positive Discipline. Ballentine Books, 2006) points out that misbehavior is all about power and the struggle to see who holds the power. Remember, it takes two people to participate in a power struggle. Win/lose situations are never good. We need to move to a win/win situation where there is trust and closeness, not “blame, shame or pain” (either physically or emotionally). For this to occur, parents and teachers need to avoid engaging in a struggle for power.
So, your child is throwing a tantrum, kicking and screaming, because it’s time to leave a birthday party. What do you do? It is clear that your child’s goal (to stay at the party) directly opposes your own (to go home and fix dinner). The behavior, in this case a tantrum, occurs because children are young and inexperienced in attaining their goals. In his book, Children: The Challenge (Plume, 1991), Rudolf Dreikurs states that there are four levels of children’s mistaken goals. In all cases of misbehavior children are:
- Seeking undue attention (not normal attention seeking, undue attention).
- Seeking undue power (trying to control other people and situations that are not areas of concern for a child).
- Seeking revenge (children feel hurt and want to hurt back twice as much, either in retaliation or to make the offender reluctant to hurt them again).
- Assuming inadequacy (a passive form of revenge; children feel they are a ‘bother’ to others and want to ‘disappear’).
When an unwarranted behavior occurs, the first thing to do is realize it’s the behavior, not the child, that you are adverse to. Then, ask of yourself, “How does this make me feel?” Using Dreikurs’ Mistaken Goals Chart, locate that feeling (or the feeling that comes closest) on the “feelings” column of the goal chart. Moving horizontally to the right, you will see how you currently react, what your child’s response is and why, along with suggestions for the adult to redirect and encourage appropriate behavior.
Children who are constantly told to "behave" or "obey" rarely develop the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. On the surface, they may appear well-behaved, but when tempted, they may seek out what is in their best interest at the time, with adverse behavior. Using positive discipline techniques in the Montessori home and classroom help children learn to be responsible for their own behavior and not to rely on external factors and motivation.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.