Providing a consistent approach to discipline between school and home is essential to a child’s sense of routine and order! Many Montessori families seeking such consistency follow the principles outlined in Positive Discipline, a specific approach founded by Dr. Jane Nelsen. Positive Discipline is a practical, non-punitive method that complements the core tenets of the Montessori method by respecting the child as a whole, capable person. It honors discipline not as merely regulating undesirable behaviors but rather as a holistic and proactive process of modeling, teaching, and providing appropriate alternatives.
The five criteria to Positive Discipline are:
- Be kind and firm – Positive Discipline is neither permissive nor authoritarian; it is an effective in-between where children are nurtured with kindness and respected with clear expectations, limits, and boundaries.
- Foster a sense of belonging and significance – Positive Discipline recognizes that one of the most impactful tools in promoting desirable behaviors is ensuring children have a strong foundation of love, trust, respect, and connection.
- Implement long-term tools – Positive Discipline is a framework that treats discipline as a lifelong skill rather than something children should be expected to control in the short-term.
- Teach valuable social and life skills – With this long-term view in mind, Positive Discipline is about a child’s overall social and emotional development with character building held as the goal.
- Treat children as capable –Positive Discipline encourages adults to ensure children are connected to purposeful work so that they may exercise their autonomy in a productive, goal-oriented manner.
Implementing Positive Discipline can feel overwhelming – especially if it challenges our current understanding of discipline, which is commonly misconstrued as punishment – and anything non-punitive is commonly misconstrued as permissive. Neither of these extremes are effective at tackling the deeper goal of discipline, which is not to get “bad” behavior to cease in the short-term and but rather to ensure meaningful character building that shapes lifelong behavior.
Below you will hear from Blanca via @whole.child.home about how she uses Positive Discipline with her toddler at home. Rally her expertise as a Licensed Professional Counselor from our recent discussion!
When did discipline first become a noticeable aspect of your own parenting at home?
If we think of discipline as teaching our children how to navigate their world and their emotions in the process – not about punishment – and stepping into our role as guide, then that starts from birth. Furthermore, if we approach discipline as not just addressing challenging behavior after it arises, but as this role of teaching proactively, you are helping your child build skills for resilience and self-regulation that they will use for a lifetime.
One of the main tools we should focus on is connection, and through connection, respect. When we connect with mutual respect, then we can actually identify the source of the behavior we are trying to address.
Only when we’ve connected and identified the root of the behavior can we effectively get to that place of problem solving and teaching our children.
What drew you to align with Positive Discipline as a Montessori parent?
When we think about discipline in general, we so often just think about punishment, limits, or consequences, but discipline is so much more than that – it is teaching. Positive parenting addresses this emphasis on teaching and keeps that long-term view of helping our children develop life skills, self-discipline, and resilience. This approach aligns closely with what I love about Montessori and her respect for children – respect for their autonomy and respect by way of giving them freedom within limits.
It was also of interest to me from a research perspective. We know that children learn through repetition, and so it’s important in our teaching of discipline, that, where there is a challenge in behavior or emotional distress, we approach these teaching moments no differently than we do other types of learning. So instead of resorting to punishment, which is focused on shaming for what went wrong, we focus on connecting to teach. We show the child how to do things differently, or what is happening as a result of their behavior. This balance of providing firm limits and being emotionally responsive is that sweet spot where we see children develop the emotional regulation skills that they need to succeed.
What myths or misconceptions, if any, have you run into when it comes to implementing Positive Discipline?
Where there is that freedom, or kindness, it must be free range or permissive. If I’m not punishing, then how am I disciplining? Children’s brains are not yet wired for regulating and thinking of consequences yet – the socio-emotional brain is not ready until after they’ve graduated college! In the moment of a tantrum, or when experiencing distress from us placing a limit, their rational brain shuts down. Punishing or isolating the child in that moment tells them that experiencing distress and negative emotions is not acceptable, resulting in shame and rejection. None of us want to make our child feel like their feelings are not valid.
If we are new to Positive Discipline, what should we keep in mind – and how can we get started?
- If we know that discipline is actually a process to teach our child how to navigate their world safely and effectively, then we can be intentional about honoring discipline as something that is so much more than compliance. Reframing what we know about discipline is the first step.
- Second, we must own and understand the fact that it’s hard! Remaining calm, staying emotionally in tune – this is a lifelong learning process for us as well. This process, then, also requires us to learn – not just our children.
To get started:
- Educate yourself! There are so many research-based books on positive discipline that can really guide and empower parents in their own journey. Through @whole.child.home, I have a book list for parents to access! Check it out here.
- Focus on mutual respect. As Montessori parents, we already focus on respecting children as capable learners, and this same focus on respect should be emphasized in our parent-child relationship at home. If you respect someone, you are more likely to engage with them kindly and connect meaningfully.
- Adjust expectations. We need to adjust expectations about our own learning journey and be patient with ourselves as we unlearn previous patterns and learn new ones. We also need to adjust expectations of our child in a specific moment based on their developmental stage, and we must have the humility to sometimes accept that our plan or expectation was too ambitious.
Blanca is a Licensed Professional Counselor with experience supporting the socio-emotional needs of children and families in various settings through evidence-based approaches. She also has over eight years of experience managing and disseminating the clinical research that helps develop these interventions. Her mission is to empower parents with science-based knowledge about child behavior and development in a way that can be applied at home. She is originally from Mexico City, where she attended Montessori school as a child. She implements the Montessori philosophy at home with her bilingual toddler, who also attends a Montessori school as part of the Guidepost family. Follow her @whole.child.home on Instagram for more evidence-based ideas to support the development of the whole child at home, with the Montessori approach in mind.
See some of her other posts here:
In This Series:
"A Montessori Framework for Discipline"
"How To Set Limits with Ms Krys"
"How to Bridge Discipline from School to Home with Ms. Brittany"
"How to Approach a Disciplined Dinner with Ms. Jennifer"
"How to avoid Punishment and What to do Instead with Ms. Bridgette"