Friday, August 24, 2012

Freedom and Discipline

When I talk about Montessori with anyone there is one area which seems to bring a tremendous area of concern or interest: Freedom.  Many people think that in a Montessori classroom "freedom" means a child can do whatever they like.  In short, the answer is "no".
     "To let the child do as he likes" when he has not yet developed any powers of control, is to betray the idea of freedom". (Absorbent Mind)

Montessori continues to say that what results in a child who is given total freedom is a child that is "disorderly".

Freedom – consists not in doing what one pleases and what circumstances invite you, but in being able to do in a direct way what is good for your development according to the laws of human existence.
Montessori believed there are two questions that should be asked:
1.      Need to know “what do you want?”
2.      How do you do it?

Basically we all seek what is good for ourselves; however, the problem comes when we cannot figure out what is good. Once we have decided what is good, we are unable to carry it out.

The child has an inner teacher who guides him to what is good for him and what he wants, but he does not know how to accomplish such a desire.

  •   Absolute freedom does not exist (due to society).
  • Dependency does not allow for freedom.
  • Independence is a colossal step towards freedom

So, what is freedom?  Freedom, is freedom with limits.  This sound restricted but it's not.  For a young child the idea of freedom is too great a responsibility to take on.  It is like putting them in an ocean with no instruction on how to swim or how to row a boat.  We would never allow our children to be in such a predicament, yet we allow our children total freedom, or in some instances none at all. 

Freedom with limits.
A child, especially a young child, needs limits.  In some instances, it is vital that we even limit their movements for safety (crossing the street for example).  How do we obtain such limits?  As a parent we must decide what is truly beneficial to our child, his safety, and to the functioning of our home, and set about certain limits which are clear for a child to understand.  These limits can begin as soon as the child is crawling, walking and especially before talking.  As the child grows these limits will change and adapt to their new abilities.  One of the ways in which children learn these are by creating a set of rules.  It is also essential that these rules be enforced at every opportunity and for them to be the same in every instance.  These should not be arbitrary rules or ones such as "cuz I said so".   As the child ages, it is also ideal to talk to them and come up with "house rules" or agreed rules for the family.   Often, when discussing rules, parents want to have a list of consequences.  Many people use a "time out" method, or taking something away.  Well, does it work for you?  Probably not.  So, don't worry about the consequences, just work on enforcing the rules.  It is best to focus on helping your child understand positive behavior rather than fixating on punishments.  More often, children will self regulate realizing they did not follow a rule.  Kids that "like to break the rules" are often ones that have been forced arbitrary rules with no proper purpose or direction and have been handed a demeaning set of consequences often as arbitrary as the rules themselves.

Let me start with examples.   From the time my children walk we start a routine where we stop at the end of the curb, look both way, and then hold hands to cross the street.  We still do this with our almost 4 year old.  We have a talk about it before, and during the walk.  They know to stop at the curb and wait so we can hold hands and cross.  The little one is still learning, but grasping the concept already. There is also a stop and stand where you are rule for parking lots.  Another rule, is when I am buckling or taking out the little one, the older one is to stay on the side walk or stand holding a gate, wall, tree, something which is within my eye sight.  Before, when she was younger, it was that she had to place one hand on the side of the car next to me.

At bed time, we discuss how many books will be read before the lights are out.  This way, the older one knows when the time is up.  She is also allowed to pick the books, usually 3 or depending on the length 1 really long one, or 2 shorter ones- you get the idea.  In this example,  we are able to rationalize the length of the books and limiting the number of books now that she is older.  Before, the books were picked and after she decided how many.

Clothes are picked and set out the night before by her so that in the morning we don't have to deal with tantrums of what to pick out for school.  The decision was made by her the previous night.  We started this around age 2 1/2. 

In our home, we have a huge set of rules.  I hope to post them soon but a few are:
- no shoes in the house
- no jumping on the furniture
- eating is at a table and not while walking around.
- food is in the kitchen or on the tables (not the rooms, and this includes items for play from their play kitchen)
-computers and electronics are for adults and adult use.
-books are not to be stepped on or written in.

The list does go on.  Consequences?  We'll get to that in just a moment.

 I want to share this story with you about how sometimes people enforce consequences without even discussing the limits.  This is a travesty.  Young children must be reminded often about the limitations IF we are to impose consequences.  Making our own set of rules at the moment often results in objections, fights, and the all known tantrum.  

 I was on the plane recently where a mom scolded her (about) 4 year old that she did not put her iPad away when the flight crew said to before take off.  Then, as the child complained the mom went on about loosing 1 minute each time she argued or whined.  This went on until the child lost 8 minutes of iPad time.  First, there needs to be a discussion about 4 year olds having their own iPads (a $500 toy!), and oh yes, therein lies the issue with this.  OK, so let's move on to the idea that it's about keeping the child occupied (so we can move on and come back to this issue at a later time).  In a situation such as this we are enforcing rules that the child does not comprehend.   In such an instance the iPad could have been given after the crew approved electronic devices and now while seated on the tarmac.  We need to question our judgement before we take something away.  

Moving on.  Topics of electronics and travel will be posted soon.

Often when discussing discipline the idea is that discipline is external.  "How do you discipline your child?"  "How is discipline handled in school?"   We expect that discipline is something a child is lacking and therefore must be imposed by an adult.  This is where Montessori stands above the rest.

Montessori says that we cannot have freedom without discipline.  They are like the two faces of a coin.  One cannot exist without the other. By disciplining oneself we move closer to being free. An individual is disciplined when he is master of himself, when he can control his own impulses and wishes, when he can follow his inner teacher. Only when an individual chooses under his own impulses and not under the will of another is he acting freely.  

When we allow a child to be free guided by an adult with the interest of the child, we allow the child to discipline himself.  This scares many parents.  The idea that a child can be self-disciplined and not be told what to do constantly is somewhat of a scary notion.  The greatest achievement of discipline is self-discipline. 
Active discipline → inner discipline → self control.

So, you ask how does freedom lead to discipline.  


Responsibility (respond ere: to answer) – is my response to a request which I feel to be my concern.  Responsibility and response have the same root. To be responsible means to be ready to respond.  To be responsible means you know how to do it.  One must have the right information to do; if not there will be consequences.

Often we demand responsibility of children.  We expect them to know how to behave, or take charge.  We ask of these things without giving them the tools or steps to achieve the proper behavior or actions.  Therefore, it is our responsibility to help children to become responsible human beings.

How do we give responsibility without demanding it?  Chores.

Chores are the best, and ideal ways in which a child can move wards the path(s) of responsibility and independence.  When a child is responsive, he shows the qualities of independence.  And when we are independent we are moving towards  freedom.

Here at our home we start "chores" early.  However, we don't call them chores, in fact, we don't call them anything because they are a part of how we work together in our microcosmic society.  A chore can be imposed, but in imposing there is no self discipline.  If it's a part of our human behavior to contribute positively to the society in which we live (our home), then we can move towards independence through responsibilities.

In many ways, we all have "to do" lists in our lives.  Basic care for the home and our person is our own "to do" list daily(brushing teeth, putting on clothes, etc).  Initially some need to be written or in picture form for the young; others, simply introduced early into a daily routine.

So, as a daily routine, our children are expected to clean up after themselves.  All dishes are carried to the kitchen where waste is disposed of in the trash and dishes placed in the sink.  Yes, even the 18 month old.  I start them from the time they are seated to eat.  After eating, which they do themselves with real bowls and spoons (not plastic), they then are gradually introduced to wiping down the table with a small sponge.  Mostly, this is fun for the young child and it is also fun for us to see them so pleased with a new activity.  As they grow and walk, we can invite them to carry their dishes to the kitchen.  For this, we have a low shelf that has dishes appropriate in weight and size for them.  Mostly, from IKEA, but also from thrift and other stores, small plates, cups, spoons, etc are placed for their use. They also help unload the dishwasher and put the dishes away in the proper place.   For more examples you can read more on cooking with kids and how it enables responsibility and contributing to the home.

There is also a small broom, mop, aprons, bucket, spay can, sponges, and dust pan for them to use when necessary.  All these are shown to them early on and introduced in a proper way to hold and use them.  They are made aware that these are tools and not toys.  Distinctions must be made between such things (reference must be made to the iPad here), what is a tool and what is a toy.

With the proper environment that aids the child to become independent and responsible, consequences are built in.  When a child runs while carrying a dish and the dish breaks, this is the consequence of his actions.  He is saddened by the loss of the dish and we can help him realize that we are now short a dish and it was by his actions that this occurred.  Having real dishes instead of plastic is a good way to aid responsibility and consequences.
We do not need to impose consequences on a young child.  They will discover them or we can help them in a positive manner without guilt, blame, or shame.  It is when children grow up without freedom, discipline, or responsibilities when they are young that all of a sudden we have to come up with columns where freedoms/ privileges/actions and consequences are placed to balance each other out. If we start out helping a young, and by young I mean crawling, child become aware of his environment and his impact and contribution to it, we allow a child to have responsibilities with actions and consequences in it. 

As this leads to more topics which I hope to cover soon so I will end here.  The intention of this post was to cover the principles of freedom and discipline and how responsibility allows for them.  I hope there is a clearer understanding on how we approach this in Montessori.  As to how this is covered in our home, I will post photos soon giving you an idea of how our home is set up, as the environment and the adults in the environment play a crucial role for all these to become possible.

*Italics are notes from my AMI training

I will leave you with:  What is the consequence you have for your child breaking or damaging your $500+ iPad/phone?  What is the consequence for breaking a crayon?

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