Positive Discipline

Montessori Kindergarten students sitting in a circle

Have you ever wondered which parenting approach best aligns with Montessori education? Positive Discipline (PD) is an approach that complements the Montessori method because it helps foster children’s “inner guide to develop self-construction and self-motivation.” PD focuses on instilling in children an internal compass which guides them to do the right thing for intrinsic reasons.

Discipline was never meant to be synonymous with punishment. Discipline simply means to teach, and teaching is best accomplished by parents/adults modeling behaviors for children. Teaching children about respectful relationships stems from parents modeling what respectful relationships look like. Also, PD invites parents to see misbehaviors as stemming from children feeling discouraged. Parents can focus on discovering the beliefs behind misbehaviors by using a combination of curiosity questions and encouraging comments, both of which invite children to help identify solutions.

Just like in PD, in a Montessori classroom, we use a lot of curiosity questions to help children figure out problems. If a child is yelling at another child, we ask questions like “what happened?” and “what do you think would help solve this problem?” When children don’t know what to suggest, we involve other children that are around to see if they have any ideas. With very young children, we have to say the words they might not know for them and frequently check for understanding. A teacher can ask a fairly non-verbal three-year-old, “do you want the truck that Bob is holding?” If the child does, then the teacher will model a request by asking, “Bob, can I please play with the truck?” Given that Bob may not be ready to share it yet, the teacher may then have to say, “Bob, when you’re done with the truck, may I please have a turn?” These ways of politely communicating one’s needs (and respecting others’ needs) mirrors the Montessori style of communication and ‘grace and courtesy’ lessons.

Montessori and PD both support the idea that a child’s environment plays an integral role in that child’s development. Maria Montessori believed that children are born with an inner guide that unfolds naturally if provided with the right environment. One of the tools in PD is to examine a child’s environment to see if an external factor might be creating or contributing to misbehavior and/or other problems. In Montessori education, the classroom is a ‘prepared environment.’ At each level, a prepared classroom environment is designed to meet the developmental needs of the ages/stages of all the students. Parents can create prepared environments in their own homes by designating areas (or even shelves) in each room for their children to have their own spaces. These areas help prevent parent-child conflict by allowing children to work and play independently while still feeling included.

Both Positive Discipline and Montessori education believe in supporting children’s independence. As a Montessori and Positive Discipline trained teacher, I have been given a new language with which to talk to children (including my own child) that not only supports their independence, but develops their self-worth, and encourages them to respect themselves and others.

Written by Sarah Nofi of the Redwood class; she has been the head guide since 2011. Sarah works in our primary program with students aged from 3 to 6.