Freedom & Discipline

How Do I Balance The Two?

Most of you may not believe our list of works to be possible, but there are ways to get your child into the habit of helping you at home and taking responsibility.

As parents or adults in a child’s life, we often come across this dilemma. How do I balance Freedom and Discipline? Can they be balanced? How much freedom is a lot of freedom? Am I being a strict parent, when I put limits? Will my child get out of hand or will she be spoilt, with freedom? Aren’t toddlers too young to be given freedom?

It is a common belief that freedom and discipline don’t go together, and that it has to be one or the other. Dr. Maria Montessori, challenged this belief; she believed and proved that Freedom and Discipline, indeed go hand in hand.

Her concept of discipline, unlike the conventionally accepted understanding of the word, was of inner discipline – a force within the child and not what is imposed externally. Conventional concepts of discipline, like – time outs, unnatural consequences, rewards or punishments are adult centred, the child remains passive. Hence, we come across situations when children ‘behave’ (adult defined good behaviour) in front of the adult and go back to be their normal self behind them. Dr. Montessori believed that inner discipline comes when the child is actively involved.

We can compare the development of discipline to the development of language or movement. We are aware that the child has the potential to develop movement or language. We know that the child starts to coo, babble, eventually make words and so we support this potential. Similarly, the child also has a potential of inner discipline and we must support it.

Just as we see the child constantly trying to move, crawl or walk in the process of developing movement, development of any kind comes only through practice and it makes the child who she is. In movement, practice helps the mind to create a muscle memory of the movement and this internal work is then seen outwardly through the child’s actions. Likewise, through practise the child develops inner discipline like a habit, which is eventually seen outwardly in behaviour.

Dr. Montessori saw this connection between the inner and the outer discipline and said that we can support the potential of inner discipline, by having an understanding of it. Let’s suppose a child is throwing a tantrum, “I don’t want to wear boots, I wear crocs to school.” We may see a behaviour that is not disciplined, whereas, it may actually be because her sense of order is disrupted and she is upset.

How do we respond to this situation? Do we let our anger or ego take control and force the child? Or punish the child for the tantrum? Or is our role to understand the child’s upset sense of order and help him through the experience? – “Yes, you are right. You wear crocs to school every day, but today it is raining; boots will keep your feet dry, when you go out.”

Supporting the child in his development of inner discipline also requires that we allow the child to be free to follow inner laws. Dr. Montessori saw freedom as a state of being, it cannot be forced and that, it too, like discipline, comes from within. It is very different from the idea of freedom that is commonly misconstrued as letting children do whatever they want.

“If freedom is understood as letting the children do as they like, using, or more likely, misusing the things available, it is clear that only their “deviations” are free to develop” (Dr. Montessori, The Absorbent Mind)

So how do we help the child develop freedom with responsibility? Quite simply, with limits. Dr. Montessori spoke about the concept of “Freedom within Limits”. She believed that by providing clear limitations within which the child is free, we give the child guidance about what is acceptable. This is done by narrowing the choices we offer that we know the child will succeed with. For example, “Would you like to wear the red skirt or the blue shorts?”, “Would you like carrots or apples for snack?”, “Do you want to put your spoon or the bowl in the dirty dish rack?” The child isn’t forced. He is guided with the freedom to choose what needs to be done. This helps the child practice making choices and develop the ability, as she grows, to make reasoned choices.

Discipline, freedom and independence are processes that require continuous practice. Limits can be useful in any setting, and must be consistent for everyone in the environment and not just the child. However, limits must be child centred and set with an understanding of what the child is capable of.

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