Monday, 6 November 2017

Understanding Obedience and Why Montessori Encourages Self-Discipline Instead

The other night Jerome was looking at the DVD cases, and I noticed him very particularly putting them away afterward, as he knows he is expected to do.

As he was coming to give me a goodnight kiss, later on, he noticed a few DVDs on the ottoman. In this moment I was able to witness a moment of joyful obedience. He laughed to himself and returned the cases to the drawer without a single word from me.

This kind of joyful obedience is what we strive for as Montessori parents. And while I do not always feel we are getting it right, I am so in awe of these glimpses of the self-discipline my toddler is capable of.

Before we begin, I wanted to share some articles I found to be helpful on this topic, such as this one and this one. The first article, especially, is from a teacher training blog, and I always appreciate the information I find at this source.


Obedience is seen as something which develops in the child in much the same way as other aspects of his character. At first, it is dictated purely by the vital impulses, then it rises to the level of consciousness, and thereafter it goes on developing, stage by stage, till it comes under the control of the conscious will. - The Absorbent Mind.

Montessori Teaching on Obedience

Maria Montessori observed that children go through three stages of obedience before they can reach self-control, which is seen as perfect obedience. Having an understanding of these three stages can help you to be more respectful of your child and your expectations of them.


The Three Montessori Stages of Obedience

     1. The first stage of obedience is where most children under the age of three are considered to be, although older children can also go in and out of this stage as well.
Maria Montessori observed that young children were not yet able to control their own actions and obey their own wills. As a consequence, they are even less capable of obeying a will separate from their own.

In order to obey, children must first:
  • Know how to perform the skill required of them
  • Have some understanding of what is being asked of them. 
  • Recieve plenty of encouragement and patience as they are guided
  • Have help in mastering new skills and understanding 

In order to obey one must not only to wish but also be able to obey. To carry out an order one must already possess some degree of maturity and a measure of the special skill that it many need. 
Hence we first have to know whether the child's obedience is practically possible at the level of development the child has reached...If the child is not yet master of his actions, if he cannot obey even his own will, so much the less can he obey the will of someone else.  
- Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

       2.  The second stage of obedience is reached when a child has mastered control of his body and actions, and is no longer limited by these.

A child in this stage is capable of obedience, but may not always choose it. He will need reminders, and often, encouragement, as the new skills they have acquired may still require practice and perfecting.



        3. The third stage of obedience can more accurately be described as the child having reached a
level of self-discipline.
self-discipline: the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.
The child in this stage of obedience is likely to make the appropriate choice in a given situation regardless of who is watching. They have a good understanding of expectations and are capable of following them without external prompting.

Maria Montessori observed that once a child reached this stage of obedience, they would respond with enthusiasm to requests, and display happiness in being able to obey.







Self-Discipline over Obedience

Additionally, I wanted to mention the importance of encouraging the development self-discipline over simply demanding obedience.

Out of respect for our children, we have tried to stay away from the: because I said so approach. Instead, we attempt to help our children understand the reasoning behind our requests when possible.

Instead of: put the dvd cases away right now or you will get a timeout.
We have said: I see the dvd cases have been left out and Benedict is stepping on them. They might get scratched or cracked if we do not take care of them, and then we will not be able to watch them anymore. Let's work together to put them away.


Our intent is to help our children form an awareness of their surroundings and to take ownership of their actions and the consequences. It helps them to become aware of social expectations, and establishes the ability to make good decisions over just following orders.

Eventually, this will help them to transition to the third stage of obedience, having the ability to make the right choice regardless of observation, reward, or punishment.


Some other natural examples of expectations we have explained to our children are:
I see you are cold after getting out of the tub. I will help you get dressed so that you won't be so cold.

When we are in the parking lot you need to hold my hand because cars cannot see or hear you, and mommy wants you to be safe.

I will not allow you to yell during mass. All of the people here are trying to spend time with Jesus and listen to Father, and you are rudely interrupting.

I understand you don't feel tired yet, but it's nine o'clock, which is the time you go to your bed. We are going to do *blank* tomorrow, and I do not want you to be too tired for that.


And as a final disclaimer, we are not always patient, and we do not always remember to follow this model. There are definitely times where the boys do not respond to my requests at all, like splashing in the tub today, and I am not as calm as I would like to be.

The learning curve is steep, but when you see glimpses of success it is so worth the effort.


Read more about respectful parenting and Montessori with this post on not leaving our toddlers hanging with no | positive parenting even with a naturally short temper | and why I don't believe in the terrible twos



Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I would also love to hear any suggestions for posts you would like me to write about. And if you are interested in following along in our daily adventures, follow us on Instagram where I post daily.

God bless,
Olivia Fischer


For more posts in my simplifying Montessori series: Practical Life | Following The Child | The Work Cycle | The Value of Concentration







1 comment:

  1. I love this! How Montessori talked about developing, versus breaking, the will is one of my favorite aspects of Montessori in relation to parenting. The examples you gave are so helpful! My one year old loves looking at the DVDs too, hopefully he will also put them away someday :)

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