How to encourage kids to cooperate the Montessori way

You may wonder, if Montessori teachers don't use punishments or rewards, how do they get children to cooperate?

The answer is pretty simple: We try to help develop the child's will, rather than oppose it.

Dr. Montessori wrote about three stages of obedience:

In the first stage, a child can obey sometimes, but only if what they're being asked to do is generally aligned with what they want. A child in this stage understands directions but is still dominated by impulse. Toddlers are generally in the first stage of obedience (though older children certainly can be too).

In the second stage of obedience, children can obey—their self-control is growing—but they do not always do what you ask. They know the right thing to do and may enjoy telling other children the rules, but do not yet always follow them. Children spend a long time in this stage and need frequent reminders of rules and limits during this time.

A child in the third level of obedience not only can obey but wants to obey, as long as they respect the authority doing the asking. A child at this stage does the right thing without reminders and loves being helpful to others. They feel a sense of pride in being a responsible member of the community.

The goal in a Montessori classroom for young children is to help them reach this third stage.

Unfortunately, obedience is not a static thing. A child may have reached the third stage of obedience, but life changes (such as a new baby at home or starting a new school) may set them back for a while.

This can be hard to understand and empathize with, but adults' self-discipline often suffers under times of stress as well. It's easy to reach for those M&Ms;, even if you're in the habit of healthy eating when a meeting keeps you at the office late, or a toddler refuses their nap.

Understanding these three stages, and recognizing that a child's will develops over time, can help us understand and be patient with a child's behavior.

From a Montessori perspective, we can help children along on their journey to self-discipline, but we cannot rush or force a child into being able to obey.

And if you think about it, we really don't want to break a child's will, to force them to obey us out of fear. We want children to be able to think for themselves, while still respecting authorities, like parents and teachers, who have their best interests at heart.

There are, however, a few things you can do to support your child as their self-control and desire to follow the rules grows:

Set consistent limits

Even if you have a young toddler who is still very much ruled by impulse, setting consistent limits is necessary to help them develop their will. Children first need to understand the rules before they can follow them. Being consistent every. single. time. will help them get there faster.

Jump in before you get mad

It can be so frustrating when a child flat-out refuses to do what you ask. Take a deep breath and help them comply before you lose your temper. This might mean taking them by the hand and helping them do the task, or it might simply mean reminding them of the limit and offering choices.

For example: "You're saying no to putting on shoes. We need to leave for school now. Would you like to put your shoes on by yourself, or should I help you?"

Offer help

Children who are still developing their will and their ability to comply with requests often feel the impulse to say "no" if you ask them to do something. Offering to do it together can help the child feel like it's a team effort, rather than something they're being ordered to do. Even if you actually help very little, offering assistance can often change the tone of the interaction.

Don't fight every battle

It's easy to think that your child will never listen to you if you can't get them to do something as simple as putting away their toys. Try to let go of that fear and recognize that building your connection with your child is far more important than getting them to do every single thing you ask. As long as you set clear, consistent limits on the important things, you don't have to fight every battle that comes up.

Recognize that a child's skills are fluid

Even the most respectful, obedient child has off-days or gets too tired to comply with our wishes. All children sometimes need a little bit of help to do the right thing, and that's okay.

Meet your child where they are, at that moment

If they cleared the table and washed their own dishes the night before, but now they're falling apart at the dinner table, accept the fact that this isn't the time push, and that's okay. There will be many more opportunities to help your child along the journey to self-discipline and become their best self.

Working with children to develop their will, rather than trying to break it, is really a shift in mindset. Simply recognizing that this is part of a child's development—just like their gross motor skills or learning to read—makes it a lot easier to be patient when you hear the word "no."

Take a deep breath and remember that this is a long journey. Your child won't remember later how they cried because they wanted puffs instead of yogurt, but they will remember how you treated them with respect and helped them become their best self.

You might also like:

Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.


Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.


Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.


Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.


BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

Keep reading Show less