Montessori: Trusting Yourself

When I was teaching, I was decisive and confident in my decisions regarding discipline and limits. I was kind and firm with my students and developed a mutually respectful relationship with each one of them that differed from child to child, personality to personality. I almost never doubted the framework within which I separated acceptable from unacceptable and I took the opportunity to help those children learn the rules and culture of our class community in a positive way everyday.

But as a mother, I'm experiencing something new. Coco is my daughter, and therefore I have a very strong emotional bond to her that I never had with any of my students. I have a whole new respect for effective parents now that I've experienced just how much our little ones tug at our heart strings when they cry and experience disappointment. It's enough to make you give in - or at least want to - even when it's not the right thing to do.

Drawing on my Montessori knowledge, here are the six discipline areas where I have to trust myself as a parent, even when she's wailing her head off.

1). Bedtime. Need I say more?

2). Routine. I know this child (like all toddlers) thrives on a consistent routine. If she's swinging and going down the slide and having the time of her life and doesn't want to leave the playground, we leave anyway if it means having lunch on time, and napping on time, and eating dinner on time...and, you know.

3). Tantrums. Sometimes these happen in public and everyone stares at you like "Go on, make your child quiet. Give her what she wants so she'll quiet down now." Not happening, people. And not happening, Coco. If it's not safe for her to walk up and down the aisle of the tram while it's zooming along, I can't let her do it, even if she thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread. And if that means she's going to 'wail and flail' as I like to call it, so be it. What's that, general public on the tram? You hate it? So do I! Duh. But letting her do things because she screams is not a precedent I want to set.

4). Following Through. It's terrible when I hear myself say, "You'll have to get out of the bath tub if you throw water over the side." Because then I have to take her out early the next time she does it. But not following through means she won't believe me the next time. Because of this whole throwing-water-out-of-the-tub fiasco, I have learned to get her all soaped up and hair washed within the first five minutes so that when it's time to pull the plug, she's ready.

5). Asking Yes or No Questions. This is a parenting pitfall. DO NOT ask a yes or no question if it's NOT a question. So obvious. So easy to do anyway. For example, now that Coco is fluent in "No" it is positively ridiculous to ask her, "Do you want to get ready for bed now?" or "Let's go get you ready for bed, okay?" Her answer will inevitably be "No." and then I'll have to go with it because I was an idiot and asked when it wasn't really her choice. It's important for children to make decisions and to experience the power of their own will. So, throughout the day, I do ask her questions. I'll say, "Do you want to go change your diaper?" and if she says no, which is fine, then I respect that. Every time, when I ask a little while later, she says yes because who wants to go around in a dirty diaper. I'm not punishing her or tricking her; I'm allowing her to experience the weight of her decision. I decide what is acceptable in that realm. I never ask her, "Do you want to sit in your buggy while we cross this busy street?" Of course not. But in little ways, I let her have the power of saying no, because she's a toddler and she needs to flex her muscles now and then.

6). Giving Two Choices. Along with the muscle flexing, another piece of development of the will is making choices. In Montessori we are always giving children two choices as a means to put the power in their hands, but within the framework of acceptability we have established as the adult. Narrowing down choices keeps it from being overwhelming, yet still lets the child experience the result of their choice. Two choices is great for clothing when getting dressed. If clashed clothing choices so typical of young children bothers you, let them choose between two complete outfits. ;) I let Coco choose between snack options: grapes or apples? Or between books at bedtime: "Counting Kisses" or "Barnyard Dance"? I tell her to touch the one she wants and she does. When she was an infant, I let her choose her clothes. I said, "Do you want to wear this pink striped outfit or this white one with butterflies?" then I watched closely to see which one she focused her gaze on. It was pretty rad. Here's the thing with two choices. They can't go back. Once they've chosen the blue shirt, the red shirt goes back in the drawer and doesn't come out again even if they change their mind. Why? Because it's important to understand the will. Once they've willed the blue shirt, it happens. It's empowering in the long term, because it enforces the idea of decision and commitment. But in the short term, it can be hard for me as a parent to keep reading, "Old Bear" when she second guesses and wants "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes" after all. But I keep on and say really plainly and kindly, "We can read that another time." and nip! That's all. But it's hard sometimes, even though I know it's right.

What are the ways that your child gets you to go against what you know is best? Do you find it challenging to stay the course sometimes?

(photo via Pinterest)


  1. It's safe to say I have no idea what I'm doing. Brett probably doesn't either. We recognize Thayne's in need of discipline and teaching and we're just sort of winging it.

    Thayne doesn't really misbehave yet... because we haven't really set any firm boundaries. He 'herds' well. There are some behaviors we'd like to extinguish, but we're not sure how. He doesn't really know they're wrong yet.

    Smearing his food around is one of the things he'll do that I'd prefer he not do. He tends to do it when he's done eating. So I've been taking that as the "all done" cue and taking him out of his chair. The meal is considered over. He doesn't seem to think it's a punishment or a deterrent. So I'm worried that I'm actually in the process of teaching him that smearing food is the sign for "all done". Not what I wanted.

    He's also not using sign language, but I'm relatively sure he recognizes signs.

    What do you think I should do?

    1. Hey there! Sorry it took me so long to respond to this...terrible on my part!

      It's natural that a one-year-old doesn't really misbehave yet. Limit setting with a child that age is more about respecting everyone's needs. So for example, around that time was when I finally sleep trained Coco so that she understood that I needed some time to myself in the evening and it wasn't my job to lie with her and let her climb on my head until she fell asleep. We eliminated a co-dependent pattern and set a limit with that one. :) The change that occurs after six months of age is that a baby learns to cry or act out to make a demand rather than express a legitimate need. Then it is our job as parents to a). discern what is a demand and what is a need and b). not get our children into the habit of playing us like a fiddle. When you have that little nagging feeling that something's not quite right - that's when they're playing you! ;)

      As far as smearing food, I would remove the plate from his reach, and in a kind yet firm voice (not loud or intimidating) say "No." Make eye contact when you do this and practice saying it out loud in the mirror to see which way is the most honest and clear. You don't want to shout or bellow because that sort of power play becomes a dysfunctional game. Instead, express clearly and plainly that that is not something we do. You might say just that. Take plate. Say "No." (eye contact, count 1, 2, 3) "That is not something we do with food." At this point, you have the plate, he is still in the chair. Put the plate aside and explain that now you have to clean up. He's still stuck in the high chair. Clean it up and tell him that when he's finished, he can say "all done" (eventually he will - sooner than you think if you keep reinforcing it) or that he can do the sign for all done (and of course, do the sign as you say that.) Within a few mealtimes, you should have established a new pattern. Good luck! xo

  2. :-D I can relate to everything you are writing about. I just realized, that your Coco is only 5 days younger then my middle daughter.

  3. Oh my! My grandmother JUST gave a fantastic lecture on 'Nurturing your child's unique spirit." It began with acknowledging and honoring the awe of the individual child--their unique self in history and the universe--the intuitive and spontaneous first smile at 6 weeks that leaves you asking "Who ARE you?"
    But then she segued into how to prepare your child to live in a community and a culture. How important belonging to the group is to individuals (She reference Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind). So, she asked, How do we prepare children to be able to thrive in a group? In culture?
    She said that they needed to experience "bad consequences for bad behavior"--ALWAYS. (This is a quote from the book). And that we have until they are TWO to lay the foundation for this. It sounds harsh in relation to children, but she acknowledged again the unique spirits of children. Some children will sense your disappointment in their behavior before you even say anything. So you don't need to. They can just tell that what they did is inappropriate--and on up to actually removing them from the situation and saying NO firmly.
    As you referenced in your discussion of the classroom, this relationship to "discipline" is different for each child because each child needs a different level of it in order to understand what is the norm and what is appropriate.
    She also talked about the "unapologetic no." We have to be able to say NO to our children without feeling bad about it. They need to understand that boundaries are real. NO you may not run across the street without holding my hand. NO you may not hit. NO you may not have cake for dinner. Etc.
    It was a really powerful talk because it simultaneously reminded us of the reality and presence of our children's souls and their unique journeys through life, and it also gave us the motivation and impetus for why we work so hard with those tiny toddlers to show them how human beings behave in our culture.
    Bravo, Lindsey. Loved this post, as usual!


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