By Margaretann Harrison, MIR Student Services Coordinator
When I began teaching, I had imagined a classroom filled with happy, joyous children gleefully working because it was a wonderful place to be. When I became a mother, I imagined a sweet, cooperative child who willingly did everything I asked because I was so wonderfully nice and lovable. I really took the, “you get more flies with honey than you do vinegar” to heart. I carefully paid attention to the feelings of the children in my life and tried to make them happy.
I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing any of them any favors, because it isn’t realistic. Life is filled with responsibilities we don’t always want to do and we aren’t always joyous about our tasks. In my desire to protect their emotions, I was robbing them of the resilience they would need to make it through challenges. Not to mention it was exhausting for me to continuously try to please everyone. Periodically I’d become frustrated with a lack of cooperation and impose heavy consequences to poor choices. I felt like I need to make sure they were doing the right thing. Then I’d feel guilty for being overly stern and loosen up the reins again. I wanted to send a message that I believed in them.
This flipping and flopping was confusing to the children and drove me crazy as well. I needed to find a way to maintain expectations, support development, AND be nice at the same time. Finally, I learned about Positive Discipline, and my journey to my desired balance began.
Positive Discipline is a parenting and teaching philosophy that focuses on long-term character building as opposed to immediate behavior solutions. It’s not a quick fix of how to get kids to do what you want them to do, but rather an approach to teach what we want them to learn. It’s about being respectful, encouraging, and concerned for others. It’s about cooperation, accountability, and problem solving. It’s about helping children feel a sense of belonging and significance. It fits well within the Montessori philosophy because we work to provide environments in which children can self-construct in positive ways. We put great thought into the preparing each environment to the developmental needs of the child. In the same way, Positive Discipline is about how we prepare ourselves as parents and teachers to model the best practices for a successful life.
Of all the Positive Discipline tools I have learned, the most valuable practice I’ve developed is the ability to be both kind and firm at the same time. As I’ve already stated, kindness wasn’t my problem. What I had to learn is that firmness isn’t about being “mean” or “controlling their behavior” (even though it felt that way). It isn’t about making them pay for their mistakes. It isn’t about “not letting them get away with it.”
Firmness is something completely different. Firmness is maintaining realistic, honest limits to develop valuable social and life skills. Firmness can be paired with compassion, understanding, and respect. Firmness is a loving and positive practice. How valuable it was for me to realize that respect for the child, respect for the adult, and respect for the situation can all coexist together. The best part is that when I modeled firmness and kindness together, children learned how to do the same. As important as it was for me to learn to give clear messages about expectations, it was even more important that the children learn to do the same with each other. That’s what Positive Discipline is all about.