Part Six of Many: The Montessori Life: Disciplining Small Children

Whether you have a preschool or kindergarten classroom, or you have toddlers and young children at home, there are many ways to approach discipline. The way you discipline should be in direct correlation with the kind of crime that’s been committed, and before you decide what punishments to mete out, there are a few things about small children of which you should be aware.
1. Toddlers have no impulse control. They are incredibly tactile little creatures, and if they see something that they find interesting, they want to touch it, hold it and maybe even mouth it to understand it better. Rather than telling children “no” all the time, it’s much easier if you put the things you don’t want them to handle up high where they can’t reach. Obviously this is true of things that break. Consider putting books, electronics, important papers, remote controls, movies and anything else you don’t want them to touch, up out of the way. Put other objects that they can’t hurt within their reach. You’re best off with bright colors and soft materials for kids just learning to be mobile. Find objects with interesting tactile sensations or things that keep kindergarten age hands busy (paper, scissors and glue, crayons and coloring books or toys that help develop hand-eye coordination.
2. Choose your battles. Kids start asserting their independence when they’re about 2 (though some are more precocious than others) and push boundaries to figure out how social situations work and to get to know their parents and teachers better. Toddlers are master manipulators and have no scruples about doing whatever they can to get their own way. You’ll go nuts if you try to control every action, so choose the ones that affect their safety or the safety of others and fight battles worth winning. Reserve yelling for situations like these so your kids recognize that it’s actually important and it leaves an impression. If they want to wear a yellow shirt and purple pants, just let it go.
3. Kids throw tantrums. They mostly do this when they feel like they’re being misunderstood, and you’re telling them “no” and it feels arbitrary to them. Bear in mind that they also throw tantrums over things that wouldn’t normally bother them if they’re tired, hungry or under a lot of stress. You can cut a tantrum off at the pass if while you see it coming, you stay calm and try to reason with the child. Ask him to explain what he wants and why, and you respond logically. If the tantrum happens anyway, hold the child firmly in your arms so he can’t flail and hurt you, himself, someone else or something else until he stops struggling and screaming. Reward him for stopping by loosening your grip or letting go. This is a great way for him to learn that tantrums are unacceptable behavior without you scaring him. This takes some patience in the beginning. If a tantrum is limited to crying, tell the child you’ll talk to him when he’s ready to talk, but not while he’s crying and then remind him that you’ll talk when he’s ready to talk and not before until he stops crying. If he grabs for your attention, repeat that you’re just waiting for him to stop crying so he can talk to you, and you’ll be glad to talk to him when he does.
4. If a kid is hurting other kids, remove him from the situation and hold him firmly until he’s ready to be respectful to others. If he squirms or gets angry with you, tell him that you’ll gladly let him go when he’s ready to be respectful to others. This also works if you have Montessori works around and he’s not treating them as he should. Gentle restraint for a rowdy kid helps calm him and teach him the proper and respectful behavior in the classroom.
5. Give your kids play time when it’s OK to be loud, and to run. Little kids have enormous amounts of energy. Don’t ever let kids get away with hurting each other, even if they’re running around outside, but don’t try to keep them cooped up and calm all day, either.
6. In this day and age where teachers have unfortunately become adults that can’t be trusted to behave appropriately around small children, many schools have decided that teachers are no longer aloud to touch or hold children at any age, at all. If all you are permitted to do is speak to a child who is acting out, I can guarantee that for preschoolers and kindergarteners, the behavior will not improve. Ever. Avoid working for schools that have a strict no touching policy, if you can, because firstly, you’ll drive yourself nuts and secondly, toddlers and preschoolers sometimes need to be held. They need the physical contact, because anything you say needs to be backed up by actions. They need to know that their teacher cares about them as individuals. They need to know that certain behaviors are unacceptable, and if they choose not to listen you will help them to follow the instructions with your own hands. They also need to know that you will do your best to protect them from physical harm, and sometimes that means physically removing them from a situation. This is yet another reason why it’s best to have another adult around at all times: So you have a witness. Explain that sometimes you have to hold the children, and most parents will understand. If they don’t, they can take their kid to a different school. The Montessori method is about teaching kids in a clean, caring, low-stress environment, and there is no way to do that if your only recourse for unacceptable behavior is raising your voice to get small children to tow the line.
The bottom line to disciplining is teaching children that certain behaviors are unacceptable. If they are restrained gently when they engage in harmful or disrespectful behaviors and released when they’re ready to act the way they should, they catch on pretty quickly. Start small and work your way up. If your classroom is really crazy and you can’t maintain the peace alone, ask for an assistant or two to help keep things going when one or two people need to be held until they’re ready to rejoin the group. If you’re just getting started, start with two kids in your class and add others gradually so you can focus on helping the new ones adapt and they catch on to the rules. This is the ideal way to maintain the peace in your classroom. Too many small children added too quickly is just a recipe for anarchy.

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2 responses to “Part Six of Many: The Montessori Life: Disciplining Small Children

  1. These tips are based on how I was trained to handle disciplining preschoolers and my experience is that given the time and patience, they work. The classroom I worked it was all 2-year-olds, though I was moved sometimes to the 18 month class and sometimes into the 3-5 year-old classes, and a few times in Kindergarten. I never had a Kindergartener need anything more than a spoken directive to adjust behavior, but the gentle restraint worked in nearly every other situation.

  2. Pingback: Part Six of Many: The Montessori Life: Disciplining Small Children | Sesasha Says

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