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Montessori at home: why punishment doesn’t work—but consequences do

When they understand the natural consequences, they learn to make responsible choices on their own, rather than to avoid punishment.

Montessori at home: why punishment doesn’t work—but consequences do

Like many Montessorians, I've used open, glass cups for my son to drink out of since he was 6 months old. People sometimes ask, “Won't the glasses break? Won't he spill?" The answer is of course, yes!


This is a natural consequence in its simplest form.

Breaking is a natural consequence of dropping something. Spilling is a natural consequence of rushing or not holding something carefully. In the event of a spill, we stop what we're doing and clean it up. With time, this teaches a child to be more careful as he sees what happens when he's not.

Natural consequences can be applied to all sorts of behavior from simple things like spilling, to more complicated situations like treating siblings with kindness.

Montessori schools and homes use natural consequences because we don't want children to behave well out of fear of punishment, we want them to do the right thing because they understand the impact of their actions.

These articles in Psychology Today confirm that punishment is not an effective way to teach children to do the right thing. Instead, it encourages children to lie about their behavior and shames them into feeling bad about themselves. It also hurts our connection with our children, which is the most powerful tool we have to influence behavior.

Alternatively, a child who understands the natural consequences of his actions will learn to make responsible choices of his own free will, rather than to please you or avoid punishment. He will make good choices even when you're not looking, because he understands the reason for them. And when he slips up, as we all do, he will hopefully see that the consequence is at least fair, if unpleasant.

Choosing how to discipline your child is a personal choice, and often a contentious one, but if you'd like to try using natural consequences at home, here are 10 examples to get you started:

1. Scenario: It's time to leave for the park and your son refuses to put on his shoes.

Consequence: He will have to sit on a bench with you at the park rather than play because it's not safe to play on the playground without shoes.

2. Scenario: Your daughter throws all of her peas on the floor at dinner time.

Consequence: She does not get to eat any peas.

3. Scenario: Your son leaves his toys outside, despite reminders to clean them up.

Consequence: It rains and one of his favorite toys is ruined and has to be thrown away.

4. Scenario: Your daughter calls her sister a mean name.

Consequence: Her sister doesn't want to play with her.

5. Scenario: Your son is running in the house, which is against the rules.

Consequence: A lamp gets broken and he has to use many weeks' worth of allowance to pay for it.

Natural consequences are one of the best ways to show children that their choices have an impact, on both themselves and others. However, children must be able to see the link between the action and the consequence for this to be effective.

Sometimes, an undesired behavior does not have an immediate natural consequence. For example, refusing to brush teeth will lead to cavities in the future, but explaining that to a young child is not likely to change his behavior in the moment.

In cases where there is no natural consequence, or the consequence is too far in the future to be an effective deterrent, we turn to logical consequences.

A logical consequence is something linked to the child's behavior, but it is something we as adults create, rather than something that happens naturally.

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Here are some examples of logical consequences:

1. Scenario: Your daughter hits someone on the playground.

Consequence: You tell your daughter that you can't trust her to play on her own when she is hurting other people. She must stand with you until you know she can be safe.

This should be said in as neutral a tone as possible. It's not a lecture, you're just explaining the impact of her choices and making it clear that the behavior is not acceptable.

You can also explain the longer-term natural consequences if your child can understand. You might say, “If you hit other children, they won't want to play with you."

2. Scenario: Your son is being rough with the library books you brought home.

Consequence: You put away the library books, explaining that if he can't take care of them, he won't be able to read them as they must be in good condition when returned to the library. (If your child is older, you might prefer the natural consequence and let him rip the pages, and then save up to pay the library fee.)

3. Scenario: Your daughter is playing in the backyard. You've asked her to be careful of the garden, but she is trampling it.

Consequence: You ask her to come inside. If she can't be respectful of your garden, she will not be able to play around it.

4. Scenario: Your son throws a tantrum every time he has to leave his friend's house.

Consequence: You say no to the next play date invitation, explaining to your child that you will not be able to have playdates with that friend until he can leave calmly when it's time.

5. Scenario: Your child repeatedly gets out of bed at night, waking you several times.

Consequence: You explain in the morning that you're too tired to make the usual pancakes because you were woken up so many times. It will have to be a simple breakfast of toast or cereal.

The key with consequences is making sure your child understands the logic of how they relate to his behavior. Unlike punishment, this does not shame the child or incite fear. It simply imparts the message that actions have consequences.

You won't need to lecture or yell because the consequences speak for themselves.

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

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Comforts Electrolyte Drink

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Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

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When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

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Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

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Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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