Parenting for Independence: Fostering Self Discipline and Confidence

Excerpted from the North American Montessori Center, with edits by Nancy Coronado, MMM Program Director
"Little children, from the moment they are weaned, are making their way toward independence."
-Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Maria Montessori understood that in order to be free one needs to be independent. She also said that learning to be independent came before freedom. Teachers and parents that are new to Montessori sometimes misunderstand this concept and expect a child to become independent by granting her/him freedom of choice without limits. Instead, fostering independence first will lead the child toward a sense of freedom and self-esteem.

With independence comes the need for self-discipline. In the prepared environment (classroom), the Montessori child moving toward independence will experience making decisions from limited choices and will meet with success in those decisions. Parents, too, learn to create the environment for such successes by planning ways to involve their child in daily life activities and in offering limited choices. In doing so, the child is then able to learn how to make wise, well thought out decisions.

So, how does a Montessori parent go about encouraging independence in their child? Here are some helpful ideas for parents to incorporate Practical Life activities at home and foster the confidence and positive development as part of the Montessori philosophy of an “education for life."

Encourage your child to make wise choices. It is best, in the beginning, to give limited choices. For example: Would you like an apple or a banana in your lunch? Notice the question is not “Would you like fruit in your lunch?” Another example would be: Would you like to clean up the playroom before or after dinner? Your teen may be planning a movie outing with friends, so reminding them that they need to keep in mind chores and make sure that there’s a plan for those chores to get done in a timely fashion may be a good idea. Allow for them to take charge of the plan. Again, the choice is not whether or not they want to but when they would like to do so.

Experience logical (natural) consequences. Once your child makes a choice, allow them to experience the consequences (good or bad) of that choice. Of course, since you are limiting the choices, the child is in no danger of being hurt. If you ask your child to take their gym shoes to school for field day and they choose not to, the natural consequence may be that they are not able to participate fully. Your adolescent may stay up late watching a movie on a school night. Having to get up at the usual, expected time will certainly be difficult but will hopefully help her/him think twice about this kind of choice.

Be careful of praise. “Excessive, long-term praise can inhibit children from gaining independence because they rely heavily on the praise of those in authority positions.” Instead, encourage your Montessori children to make judgments of their own behavior, work, and ultimately, worth.

Include your child in family decisions. Ask for her/his ideas and input. For adolescents, this is an absolute must. Adolescents will learn from these conversations how to go about making future decisions for themselves. Any experience will be more meaningful to the child who feels they have some control over the situation, than to the child who has not engaged in planning.

There can be no freedom without self-discipline. Self-discipline must be taught, modeled, and practiced before a child reaches a mature ability to self-discipline. Without self-discipline, the child cannot be independent, and independence is the true goal of the Montessori philosophy.