Montessori - How obedience and will power develop in young children

A young baby needs nurturing, attention, and love, but this can sometimes lead to him becoming the master of the house. A 2yo is a challenge to parents when he doesn’t respond to what you tell him and is not inclined to follow your instructions.

Parents have been following the child, but now they feel the need to take on a new role. Some take on the role of an authority figure believing that the child who is not obedient needs to be disciplined. Rules need to be enforced and the child, even as young as 2, needs to suffer consequences for his behaviour or be punished.

Other parents take on the role of leader, co-worker and supporter. They look at their child and assess his capabilities. They take note of Dr Maria Montessori’s advice that conscious will is a power that develops with use and activity. She suggested cultivating the will but not breaking it.

The will can be broken in a moment. Its development is a slow process that evolves through a continuous activity in relation with the environment. It is so easy to destroy. The most common prejudice in early education is that everything can be accomplished by talking or by appealing to the child’s ear. Another is by holding oneself up as a model to be imitated. The truth is that the personality can only develop by making use of its own powers.

Educators in the past did everything in their power to achieve obedience and believed that the will of the child must be broken. Not long ago they used the cane to enforce their orders. A disobedient child was branded as “wicked”.

Before the child is 3yo he can’t obey a request unless it corresponds with one of his vital urges. He has not yet reached a stage to exercise his will consciously. At this age he acts on impulse. Most parents accept the fact that they can’t expect a 2yo to be obedient. Even after 3 years the child must have had opportunities to cultivate the will before he is able to obey.

You may have experienced the joy of a helpful and co-operative toddler and believe that a very young child is able to obey. Some little ones happily copy their older sibling’s example and many enjoy helping with household chores and going on errands. The toddler who is in an environment where he is involved in open-ended play may not display his inability to obey orders. This has not been expected of him.

Montessori’s 3 Levels Of Obedience

  1. The first stage is when the child obeys sometimes but not always. He may succeed in obeying an order once, but cannot do it next time. “I can’t understand he could do it last week”, thinks mum.
  1. The second stage is when the child can always obey. His powers are now consolidated and can be directed not only by his own will, but also by the will of others.
  1. In the third level of obedience he takes joy in the fact that there is someone who can do things far beyond his own powers. He transforms his newly acquired ability and becomes anxious and impatient to obey.

Obedience is a process of unfolding. At first it is dictated purely by impulse, then it rises to the level of consciousness and thereafter it goes on to develop stage-by-stage until it comes under the control of the conscious will.

Montessori - How obedience and will power develop in young children

The Silence Game

This game is played in the Montessori 3-6yo classroom, and offers a means of testing children’s will power.
The exercise calls for a control of impulse as well as the control of movement. When the game is played on a regular basis, children become capable of using their will power for the purpose of action and for restraint from action.

How To Play The Silence Game

  1. Children sit in circle.
  2. An adult makes a sign that we are going to play the Silence Game.
  3. The class community falls completely silent.
  4. When silence is achieved the group is left for a few minutes to enjoy it.
  5. The children get a gentle tap on the shoulder letting them know they are able to leave the circle. This can also be done by softly whispering one child’s name.
  6. On hearing his name, or on feeling the tap, the child leaves the circle quietly while the others remain sitting motionless.

Through fostering the development of the will, obedience is made possible. In seeking obedience we do not have to be assertive as it is a trait that will develop naturally.

We must just observe what is appropriate to expect when giving an instruction. When children come to the point of enthusiastic obedience we hold a deep sense of responsibility. When parents don’t realise the child is incapable of blanket obedience they believe the child is deliberately “testing” their patience and authority.

How to cultivate the will

Give the child opportunities to follow instructions through games such as –

  • Hide and Seek
  • Simon Says
  • Follow the Leader
  • Go To Your Places
  • Ready, Set, Go
  • Copy a series of claps, drum beats, songs and finger play, such as Open, Shut Them

Helping with chores and going on errands all give valuable experience in the process of becoming obedient.

Please share and leave a comment below.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This