How to Reach Joyful Obedience

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Maria Montessori believed obedience develops naturally in the child’s character. The word “obey” is derived from the Latin word audire, which means “to hear.” Obedience begins with hearing a request and ends with an action in response. Humans learns skills in stages. We tend to move between the stages, repeating the activity, gaining new skills, until we can do it with no further instructions.

First Stage: We are introduced to a new activity and have assistance to complete the activity correctly.

Second Stage: We choose do an activity but do not always take the initiative to do it (needs reminders).

Third Stage: We know what we need to do and do it without asking.

Does this sound familiar? Or have these words ever come out of your mouth: “How many times do I have to remind you to…?” Sounds like Stage 2, doesn’t it? Children will move through these levels back and forth until they have internalized the rule, and it becomes a natural pattern of behavior for them.

Maria Montessori’s Levels of Obedience

First Stage of Obedience (Children under 3 years): 

Montessori believed that before children could learn obedience, they needed to be able to control their urges. As she stated, “If he cannot obey even his own will, he cannot obey the will of someone else.” At this stage, the child will be both obedient and disobedient to parent commands. For parents, this is the first time they hear, “No!” from their child. Parents can help support this stage of development by encouraging their child to be independent (walking by themselves instead of being carried, putting himself to sleep/selfsoothing, and using their words to express their needs are all examples).

Second Stage of Obedience (Over Three Years of Age):

Montessori believed that at this stage the child can always obey, because he is now in control of his body. He can now take directions by his own will or that of another. Children at this stage of development will be seen by adults in their world as being very compliant. The child is helpful and does not want to disappoint. Although at this stage many parents feel a sense of accomplishment, children will move back to stage one and up to stage two a few times. Parents who have heard these words, “I forgot how to tie my shoes,” know how frustrating this process can be. Be patient. They will move back to this stage and into stage three. The most important thing to remember is to encourage the child to keep moving forward in his development. Responses such as, “I believe in you. Try again,” will do wonders to keep development moving forward.

Third Stage of Obedience:

Joyful obedience is the term Montessori used to describe this stage. The child at this stage is obedient not because of external forces, but because he has developed a high level of self respect. He makes appropriate choices in the absence of adult presence. At this stage parents are encouraged to support relationship and observe how the child handles himself.

An example of the Three Stages of Obedience in a four-year-old:

First Stage:

A parent and child are at a park. It is time to leave. Child begins crying. Parent reiterates it is time to leave and a tantrum follows. Parent picks up the child to leave. (Child has not learned to self-regulate feelings. No explanations will work at this stage.)

Second Stage:

A parent and child are at a park. It is time to leave. Child begins crying. Parent reiterates it is time to leave and explains they will come back again soon. Child stops themselves from crying, and they go home.

Third Stage:

A parent and child are at the park. It is time to leave. Child says, “Okay. Can I carry the bag back to the car?” Encouraging this type of development may seem like a daunting task, but it is a very important one. Learning how to self-regulate and to become obedient to themselves is important to raising healthy, independent adults.

Obedience is seen as something which develops in the child in much the same way as other aspects of his character. At first it is dictated purely by the vital impulses, then it rises to the level of consciousness, and thereafter it goes on developing, stage by stage, till it comes under the control of the conscious will. – Maria Montessori

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