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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Utilise freedom to inculcate discipline in the child

Generally, freedom and discipline are supposed to be opposites. This is because we have given our own meanings to these two words. While freedom is supposed to mean 'You can do whatever you want to', while discipline means 'do what adults say'.

Image Credit: Sapience Montessori House of Children

Dr Maria Montessori gave a different twist to these words and created a new method to help the child develop 'character traits' ( we also call them personality traits) such as patience, focus and independence. 


She classified discipline into two categories : Internal discipline and External discipline. Generally, we as adults are more concerned about external discipline which we can visibly see in a child - does he do whatever he is doing without getting distracted, does he disturb others, does he damage the material. She however asserted that this 'external discipline' behaviour is the consequence of 'internal discipline'. So instead, she urged teachers to focus on developing 'internal discipline' in the child. 


But how to achieve internal discipline in a child ? Her counter-intuitive answer was 'Use freedom'. She gave 'restricted' freedom to the child that is compatible to the nature of the child.

For instance, in Montessori environment, the child is given complete freedom to choose his own activity from the myriad of activities, every day. He has the freedom to move in the environment and observe anyone doing it . Child has the freedom to do her activity at her own pace and not do what the rest of the students in the class are doing.

But this freedom is not without restriction. For instance, child can choose his own activity, provided he has been presented earlier and provided it is available on the rack. If it is not on the rack, he has to wait for other child to finish. This is how he develops patience. Child can do any activity in his own way, provided she does not misuse the material. For instance, a child cannot use pink tower to play Lego. This helps her respect the proper usage of the material. Or the child can move in the environment freely, provided he does not distract other child. This helps the child to develop 'social intelligence'.

On the other hand, the child is given complete freedom in areas which matter to him a lot. For instance, he can eat at whatever time he wants. Or he can go in the outer environment at any time. Or, he can do 'nothing' if he is upset about something. He can refuse to take new activity and assert his independence. He can repeat an easy activity to feel good about himself.  

Outcome of using freedom for developing internal discipline

Dr Maria Montessori carefully orchestrated the freedom that suits the nature of the child. This leads to a child who becomes independent, self-learning, and observant. A child in Montessori, for instance, learns to do many 'blindfold' activities without cheating himself, because the child understands the benefit of learning.

Conventional schools, on the other hand, manage this freedom in a wrong way. By forcing child to do a pre-decided activity, they disregard the child's willingness to learn. By making every student learn at the 'same' pace, they force every child to disregard their own individual grasping ability forcing him to miss a lot. By restricting his movement in the class, they take away the child's opportunity to  learn from seeing others doing it.

How can you use this wonderful rule of freedom at home for a child age 3-6?

When we discussed these methods in a parent's meeting, following three ideas emerged:

1. Re-negotiate choices with the child while eating

Have fixed times to eat. If the child eats in between, he is not hungry at the food time and therefore refuses to have his food. If the food is new to him/her, give him the choice to eat or not. But once the child sits on the dining table, which should suit his small size, do not give him choice to move while eating. Do not use TV to distract him. Do not use mobile to let him play games. Make him sit with others until the food is over. Do not force him to eat, but he must sit at the table.  

2. Re-negotiate choices with the child while sleeping

Prepare him for bed. A good cue is to change his dress while sleeping, if possible. While going to bedroom, dim the lights. While going to bed, if possible, give him options like : listening to music, singing a lullaby, or telling a story. If you wish to tell him a story, restrict him to one story. Children often ask for many stories. One of the parent suggested a new method to restrict the story to one. If you ask the child to 're-tell the first narrated story',  he is not able to 'recount the story' at this age. This helps us to restrict the story to 1.

3. Give restricted freedom to the child in public places like roads, malls, and trains

In public places, safety is paramount. In these situations, do not negotiate the choices with the child. If the child is told to hold your hands ( as far as possible , do not hold his hand), he must hold it irrespective of anything. If the child refuses to listen, be stern. There is no need of raising voice. A stern look is good enough. But if the child refuses to listen, warn him. For instance, warn him that he will be taken back to home. And do it , if the child does not listen.

At the end, the child must develop his internal discipline, not external discipline. He should become independent in making his choices. It is easy to make the child listen to 'us'. But in a long run, it does not help. Because we do not want our child to depend on us to make his choices all the time.

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