A Little about Positive Discipline by Marija Perunovic - Sprouts Teacher Ridgewood location
Last month, I was lucky to be invited to the annual NJMAC Montessori Conference. It was a worthwhile experience for a great many reasons, but one of my biggest takeaways was a seminar I attended on ‘positive disciple’. Though I’ve seen our wBees teachers (shoutout to Tasha), and other Montessori educators, implement these strategies in the classroom, I had never had it broken down for me in such clear terms. I came out of the seminar with some great new tools in my teaching arsenal, and have since purchased the book, and plan to continue consciously engaging these principles in my work with children.
Positive Disciple is a classic teaching and parenting text by Dr. Jane Nelsen. Her original book, first published in 1981, deconstructs the traditional model of discipline, characterized by rewards, punishment, and praise. This can run the gamut from something like bribing a child with a cookie, to school suspensions. She offers an alternative model of discipline, one that teaches children important problem-solving skills that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. The ultimate goal of ‘positive discipline’ is for the child to feel more connected to you. We want to encourage loving and trusting connections, we are modeling respectful relationships to society’s youngest members, in the effort to create a more peaceful world. For these reasons, ‘positive discipline’ is very much in line with Montessori philosophy and has long been popular among Montessori educators. Empirical studies over the years have demonstrated this approach produces results for children of all ages.
Asking Questions -
An important aspect of ‘positive discipline’ is asking children questions rather than feeding them the ‘right’ answer. We can put a pause on an undesirable behavior, and ask the child to stop and think about what they are doing. As the lecturer explained at the conference, a child (or adult, even!) will only listen to you after they feel listened to. For example, a child is doing something potentially unsafe, like standing on a classroom chair. As long as they are not in immediate danger, rather than telling them, “Get down from there, you’ll fall!,” get close and ask, “Why are you up there?”... “Do we stand on furniture in our classroom?”... “What do you need to do to fix your body?” This gives the child the opportunity to self-correct, while still enforcing and maintaining clear boundaries.
Some questions and areas we can focus on:
What caused it to happen?”
How they feel about it.
What they can do about it.
If a child is not able to immediately correct their behavior, some useful language in such a scenario would be something like, “Well, I can wait for you to think about it.” And then really wait, wait, wait. If, like in the case of the chair, the child is not self-correcting, but the behavior is unsafe and requires immediate correction, it is still possible to offer the child a choice. Something like, “You can fix your body, or I can help you.”
Enforcing Boundaries -
The key is to keep your language kind and firm. Especially for young children, the fewer words you use the better. It’s important to always lead with kind connection before enforcing a firm boundary. The adult’s role in the dynamic is to model calm, friendly, and respectful engagement with others.
In ‘positive discipline,’ the word AND is your best friend. AND is a connection word, it lets you leada statement with empathy, while still enforcing a necessary boundary. It is important to note here that though giving children choices is important, you should avoid changing a boundary into a choice by ending with the words “okay?’ or “please?” You want to avoid any potential for ambiguity. Begin with empathy and understanding, and end with absolute clarity and concision.
Here are some examples:
“I know it’s hard to stop playing (kind) AND it’s time for dinner (firm).”
“I can see that you don’t want to go to bed (kind) AND it’s bedtime (firm). Is it your turn to choose a story or mine? (redirection)”
This second example is great because it demonstrates how questions can be employed effectively to redirect children from undesirable behavior to desirable behavior by giving them the opportunity to make choices in an unambiguous manner. The question employed here demonstrates to the child that you are not ‘mad’ at them, and that you still respect their autonomy and their ability to make good choices.
If you found this short little summary helpful, I highly recommend checking out Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline books, which over the years have been adapted for parents, educators, and children of all ages.