Rewards and Punishments are Not Montessori

We are all born human, but we are not born with a destiny for exactness in body, mind, or heart. Learning how to communicate with others and exist peacefully in one’s society starts from birth and never ends.

We always have work to do to nurture our relationships with others. All of us. It’s deep, intense, and satisfying work.

Maria Montessori recognized this, and her approach with children was revolutionary in this particular aspect.

As parents, we want the best for our children, and when we see them “misbehaving” — or behaving in a way that is socially unacceptable or harmful to themselves or others — we understandably look for a way to stop it as quickly and effectively as possible.

Methods and systems using a rewards-based or punishment (external consequences-based) approach with children promise to do just this: change a child’s behavior by giving immediate positive or negative feedback. This does not align with the Montessori approach to guiding children.

In Montessori 101, as we are a group dedicated to Maria’s philosophy, we have a group guideline stating that rewards and punishments are non-negotiables.

In our community, we will not advocate for them or debate their appropriate use.

Here are some examples of methods that are incompatible with Montessori. This is not an all inclusive list but was written to help you understand some common misconceptions that occur inside our group as we educate one another and share information.

  1. Sleep Training / CIO methods. In Montessori, we do not “train” children to go to sleep. Isolating a child and allowing crying until he/she has learned helplessness is a form of punishment. Instead, the Montessori approach focuses on assisting a child to sleep in gentle ways by making sure that they feel safe, secure, and loved. Whether you cosleep or whether your child sleeps in a crib or in a floor bed, a gentle approach should be used.

  2. Time-outs. In Montessori, we do not put children in corners, special chairs, or isolate them for a certain number of minutes. “Time-in” is a Montessori compatible approach that is often recommended by our members instead. If a child is hurting themselves or the environment or another child, we do remove them from the situation for safety — but this would be done with the intent of protecting the child from harm, not punishing a child. Not ever.

  3. Potty Training. We do not “train” children. We help them learn to use the potty or toilet in their own time without treats/candy/stickers. We NEVER punish them for accidents. We encourage our children by wiping up spills without making a big fuss about it and we trust our children to learn in their own way, in their own time, with our guidance and support.

  4. Training Methods. I will say it again for our newbies. We do not use therapy methods or behavior-changing methods that use a “training” approach, including direct coercion, verbal or physical manipulation, rewards, or consequences that make a child feel unduly stressed by forcing them to respond in a singularly-acceptable way.

In particular, many members of the autistic community have spoken up to advocate for the rights of children and would like members to be aware that ABA therapy is one such method that uses the rewards/punishments-based approach above. Since many of our members are not educated about ABA therapy, they have provided resources for us to share with one another.

If you are a parent who is currently seeking help for your child using ABA therapy, or if you are considering it, please note that because it is rewards/punishments based, it is NOT compatible with Montessori, and furthermore, the children who grew up with this method used on them would like to speak up on behalf of their younger selves and on behalf of the young children today who perhaps cannot communicate the severity of what is happening to them in these therapy sessions.

As adults, these members have no doubt that this method caused them a great deal of emotional harm. As parents and educators, we would be wise to listen to them and educate ourselves on this issue.

All children deserve to feel safe, loved, respected, and empowered. THAT is Montessori.

We will not debate these non-negotiables.

Our intent is to lift up the voices who are often marginalized and to advocate for the rights of all children.

CommunityAubrey Hargis