Thursday, July 23, 2009

Montessori Parenting: Thoughts on Consequences and Positive Discipline Techniques

NAMC montessori parenting consequences positive discipline boy crying
Another reader comment about the Natural and Logical Consequences blog, comes from a mother who states that she has been trying for some years to deal with misbehavior around play dates in a similar fashion as my anecdote suggests, but without sustained success. She reasoned that my child must have a very different temperament from hers.

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 Techniques

Jane 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’).
Understanding that misbehavior is centered on these four principles enables adults to respond effectively. The child is looking for a reaction. Any time an adult gets mad or raises her/his voice, the child is the winner of the situation. Why? The child got attention through the reaction. Good or bad, it’s still attention. The child knows the adult cares enough to react. So, Dreikurs says, show you care, but don’t react. Instead, redirect the behavior.

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.
NAMC montessori parenting consequences positive discipline girl and teacher
Remember, it takes time, patience and perseverance. Implementing positive discipline techniques requires much practice. At first, the adverse behavior may even escalate because your child is not used to your new behavior. Taking time to talk about the changes will help your child understand. Role-playing the new situation with an adult partner can help to prepare you for working things out with your child. Many people keep a copy of the Mistaken Goals Chart in a place where they may access it quickly: on the refrigerator, in the car, posted in the classroom. Try to implement one new strategy at a time in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

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.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, July 23, 2009.


  1. Thanks for the extra attention to my question. I have been doing things, but I decided to lighten up in my energy when doing so (I think dressing had become stressful and she probably picked that up from me despite doing the actions you suggest).

    Im glad to say there has been a grea change - its not always smooth sailing - but much more than before. Many thanks.

  2. Isn't it amazing how a different approach can make the world of difference? I'm glad to hear you are experiencing greater success with your daughter.

  3. I was wondering about the chart that you recommended. The link does not seem to be working. Is there another link that I may use?

    I have read the book, Children: The Challenge, by Richard Dreikurs, and it is amazingly helpful. Both my husband and I also took a class about Positive Parenting, which used the book, back in our old Montessori school.

    This was a good reminder and, as we continue on our homeschooling adventure, I think it will serve my husband and I both well to revisit the chart! We started homeschooling our 3 children (9, 8, and 4 year olds) in August of this year. Rough start, but life is getting better already!

    Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon about a new link to the chart.

    Maria Leo Bettner

  4. I wanted to correct my previous comment. I wrote Richard Dreikurs, when it should have been Rudolf Dreikurs. Would you make the correction please?

    Thank you.

    Maria Leo Bettner

  5. Thank you, Maria. The article has been updated with a new link.


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