One very important aspect of Positive Discipline is to be Kind and Firm at the same time. This is a very difficult concept for many parents and teachers to master. Instead of doing them both at the same time, people often fluctuate back and forth between too kind and too firm. I know I have been guilty of this. My daughter pushes my buttons until I snap. I yell or say something I don't really mean, and then I feel guilty for having been so tough on her and I try to make up for it by being extra nice. It is a vicious cycle, and hard to get out of. Sometimes one parent is too nice, so the other parent tries to make up for the perceived lack of firmness and is extra strict with the children. Both scenarios are very confusing for children.
In Montessori we have a similar expression, Freedom and Discipline. The two concepts are dependent upon eachother. When Montessori talks about discipline in the child it is something that comes from within. A mastery and control of one's self is to be disciplined. This is something that children gain during their first six years of life. Freedom to the child, is to be able to follow their inner teacher and to fulfill their needs completely.
Just like Kind and Firm, Freedom and Discipline must come together. Too much of one and the other is sacrificed. Freedom in the Montessori classroom means choice. Children are free to choose what they will work with depending on their interest. It is kind to allow children to make choices for themselves and do as they desire, but it will not work unless there are limits. Montessori limits are clear and simple. 1. All actions must take into consideration the greater interest of the group, and 2. Knowledge precedes choice. With these two simple ideas children can find a balance between what they desire to do and what is acceptable. A teacher or parent can kindly and firmly implement the limits.
How does this look in real life? A child who takes out the scissors and attempts to cut a piece of paper, but hasn't yet been shown that lesson will gently be reminded that he has not yet had that lesson and will need to put it away. Another child, who as had a lesson with cutting paper, takes out the scissors and attempts to cut another child's hair. This child will be reminded kindly that the scissor are only for cutting paper. It would not be in the greater interest of the group to allow children to cut whatever they want with the scissors. In neither situation would the teacher yell, shame or punish the child. A clear reminder of the limits with a kind tone will often solve the problem.
I am not saying that this is all that will be necessary. Further action is often necessary, and that is when another tool might come into play. The important thing about the Kind and Firm tool, is that you continue to use it at all times. It is beneficial to approach each interaction with your children both kindly and firmly. Rules are rules, and they can and must be enforced, but it can be done in a kind and respectful manner. Shame and blame are not kind and aren't even more effective at teaching then a more respectful approach would be.
Children need to feel free to make choices for themselves, but they are not ready to make all their own decisions yet, and that is why they need limits. Limits allow the children to acquire self discipline. When they know what to expect and what is expected of them, they feel confident in their ability to make choices and do so happily. If you kindly implement consistent limits in your home, you will feel like a better parent and your children will gain self mastery, a trait that will carry them throughout their life. Remember, children do better when they feel better, and children feel better when they are approached with kindness and firmness at the same time!
Coming up next: Pay Attention!