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Natural Consequences vs Punishment

When it comes to how you discipline your child, it’s a very personal choice. However, in Montessori learning, there is a concept called “natural consequence” that can revolutionize the way we discipline our children. Unlike punishment, which utilizes fear to get children to behave well, natural consequence helps children understand the impact of their actions, so they want to do the right thing.

What are natural consequences?

The Montessori method explains to us what natural consequences are and how they are proven to work. A simple example of natural consequence can be found in the following scenario. Suppose you give your child a drink of water in a glass cup and he drops it. The glass breaks and the water spills. Yes, this can be a huge mess but it is also a big learning moment. Your child sees that the broken glass and spilled water is a natural consequence of his careless actions. From that point forward (and sometimes after multiple accidents), your child will try to be more careful when holding the glass of water to avoid the same accident in the future.

Through natural consequences, children learn that their choices have an impact on themselves and others. In order for this to truly be effective, however, the child must be able to see that the link exists between their action and the consequence.

Maria Montessori has shown us the way. In her teachings, she said the most important preparation is to ensure that the adult(s) in these circumstances should approach the child thoughtfully instead of jumping to conclusions that the child is acting bad or naughty. Hence, parents, adults, teachers or caretakers should try to see the root of the problem causing the child to behave in such a manner, instead of observing and recording the child’s actions in an unsympathetic manner.

It has been noted on more than one occasion that an unmet need of some sort takes the form of such difficult behavior patterns. In situations like this, adults should be loving and patient towards the child. They should offer more thoughtful activities such as washing exercises, sandbox activities, flower arranging, watering plants, fishing, or any other activity that can exercise their brain to calm down.

What is punishment?

Punishment is a form of conditioning that focuses on reducing or eliminating unwanted behaviors. Punishment can involve two things:

  1. Presenting an unpleasant stimulus, such as loud scolding, when the child has done something wrong.
  2. Taking something that they want away from them when they have done something wrong.

Oftentimes, punishment can be ugly and has also proven to be ineffective in many cases. The main drawback to punishment is that you aren’t offering your child any real solutions on how or why they should achieve the desired or appropriate behaviors.

Dr. Maria Montessori mentions numerous times in her writings that an energetic child needs firm but cheerful guidance for finding outlets for those wonderful and healthy urges, which at times are being expressed inappropriately in the form of unpleasant behaviors. The Montessori child’s daily life of development and education through a self-managing and self-regulating personality is by itself nature’s prevention program that we see deeply rooted within a child.

What happens when there is no natural consequence?

In certain situations, there may not be a natural consequence or the consequence is too far in the future for the child to care about the impact now. In these instances, we can use logical consequences or consequences that we create and link to the child’s behavior, rather than something that that occurs naturally.

An example scenario of a logical consequence is as follows. Your child wakes up in the middle of the night and comes to your bedroom, waking you up several times. Instead of getting irritated about the situation, create a logical consequence. You can explain the following morning that you are too tired to make the French toast and bacon that you normally make because you were woken up so many times last night. The breakfast will have to be cereal or yogurt, or anything simple.

To make these logical consequences work, you have to make sure that you are relating the consequences to their behavior in a way that your child will understand. These consequences also shouldn’t be issued as a threat (like some punishments are) and should be simply stated as a matter of fact. This reinforces the idea that their actions always have consequences.

Discipline at MASS

At Montessori Academy at Sharon Springs, we frequently host Positive Discipline classes, where we provide parents with instruction on the positive skills needed to handle temper tantrums and misbehavior. We also give useful tips on how to deal with morning and bedtime hassles, as well as affirmative solutions to defiance and power struggles.

Parent Education: Practical Life – Part 1

Today we are looking back at a series that we posted back in the summer, Practical Life. 

In a Montessori classroom, the Practical Life area is one of the first areas that a child explores. This section of the classroom provides the child with real-life materials that help to develop coordination, concentration, independence, and order.

Through the exercises of Practical Life, the child learns the skills that enable him to become an independent being. From birth, the child is striving for independence and concerned adults, parents, and teachers should help him on his path by showing him the skills he needs to achieve this end. Having been shown a skill, the child then needs freedom to practice and perfect.

In a Montessori classroom, preschool children learn basic motor skills in the Practical Life areas by teaching themselves and learning from other children rather than by specific adult instruction. As the child becomes absorbed in an interesting activity, he develops concentration. If the activity is appropriate and meets a need, it will be interesting for the child. The longer the child is absorbed by an activity the  better for the development of concentration.

Through activity, the child learns to control his movements. The idea that the path to intellectual development occurs through the hands is a major theme in the Montessori Method. The exercises of Practical Life provide opportunities for the development of both gross motor and fine motor movements. In addition, the child learns to keep the environment in a clean and ordered way, putting everything away in its right place. He is taught to approach each new task in an ordered way, to carry it out carefully, to complete the activity, and finally, how to clean up and put the materials away. Engaging in this complete process encourages logical thinking.

Another great post on Practical Life can be found here as well.