Resolving Misbehavior

by Lee Havis

“ A teacher of experience never has grave disorder in her class because, before she draws aside to leave the children free…she watches and directs them for some time…eliminating their uncontrolled movements.”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Absorbent Mind , p.245

Resolving misbehavior is one of the three major lesson presentation types in the IMS Montessori teaching technology. The other two, sensorial introduction and nomenclature, involve the presentation fo materials that children use for their normal self-directed development. The Resolving misbehavior lesson relates to Montessori teaching to interact with children to control the environment in a misbehavior scenario. This tpe of interaction is especially important during beginning conditions, when you must deal with the ordinary child who is like a fighter conditioned to resist all normal adult interaction.

A Fighter
" …the child of three…is a fighter on the verge of being vanquished…All that remains active is a superficial personality which exhausts itself in clumsy movements, vague ideas and the effort to resist or avoid adult constraint.”
Dr. Maria Montessori from Absorbent Mind , p.264

From infancy, children ordinarily develop various personality patterns of fantasy, fear, conflict and disorder as a reaction to negative home-life conditioning. The average young child, therefore, enters the Montessori environment as a fighter poised to defend against any interaction with others. Montessori teaching must, therefore, initially challenge this superficial personality by hard polishing the environment to overcome the resistance caused by wrong treatment in the past.

Wrong Treatment
“…every defect of character is due to some wrong treatment sustained by the child during his early years…defects in character, disappear of themselves…One does not need to threaten or cajole, but only to ‘normalizing the conditions’ under which the child lives.”

Dr. Maria Montessori from Discovery of the Child , p.241

Misbehavior is any behavior that is not consistent with normal being. It always reflects some type of outward reaction to wrong treatment from a hostile environment of negativity and abandonment. Only hard polishing, using heavy techniques, such as distraction and cooperative touching, can usually remove the substantial environmental obstacles at cause.

Removing the Obstacles
“The teacher’s happy task is…removing the obstacles, beginning first with those which she herself is likely to present (for the teacher can be the greatest obstacle of all).”

Dr. Maria Montessori from
Discovery of the Child , p.241

In a group, misbehavior materializes in scenarios that focus interest around a central “hub” child. Resolving these misbehavior scenarios is a process of removing the obstacles from the child’s environment, which is made up of three specific components: (1) physical objects (2) other children and (3) adult personality. Your basic action then is to apply techniques to control the environment according to certain protocols that closely approximate laws of nature. This process begins with your being a quiet spectator of the total environment, objectively analyzing what is best to do from one moment to the next.

Quiet Spectator
“…it is the environment itself which helps to make the children continuously better…the teacher…can remain a quiet spectator of all the little mistakes that occur around her.”

Dr. Maria Montessori from The Child , p.12-13

Following the protocol well-being of the total environment, you always begin by scanning the environment to determine what is most important for you to do at that time. As a quiet spectator, you must initially set priorities for your involvement, starting first with the scenario that has the greatest danger and potential for harm to children. Guided by your prudent observations, you then conduct experiments to remove the detrimental influences from around the “hub” child in question.

Prudent Observations
“The teacher must be able to make prudent observations, to assist a child by going up to, or withdrawing from, him and by speaking or keeping silent in accordance with his needs.”

Dr. Maria Montessori
Discovery of the Child , p.72

Using prudent observations, you will logically choose to resolve the most serious misbehavior scenario first. For example, noticing a child threatening to harm another child with a physical object, you approach this high-priority scenario, using the technique proximity. Then, hold the object in the child’s hands to get the child’s attention, using the technique distraction. Following the protocol eye contact before talking, you may then offer some earnest words, inviting the child to do something positive away from the misbehavior scenario.

Earnest Words
“If a teacher sees that material is being used in a way that will not attain its goal…she should prevent him from continuing…if he shows a tendency to misbehaves, she will check him with earnest words…”

Dr. Maria Montessori from Discovery of the Child , p.153

At times, you may need to use physical control to resolve misbehavior in handling materials. However, the protocol least amount of adult involvement directs you to release any physical control you may employ as soon as possible, relying more on lighter polishing tools, such as the verbal techniques of clear direction and reflective language. Using earnest safe words, you might then offer a clear direction phrase, such as “Come over here. Let me show you something.” Finally, show the child some simple piece of work away from the scene of disorder.

“Discipline is therefore attained indirectly, that is, by developing activity in spontaneous work.”

Dr. Maria Montessori from Discovery of the Child , p.305

The final step in most resolving misbehavior interactions is to invite the child to some piece of work, which is always the ultimate solution to all misbehavior. As children concentrate on work, their misbehavior tends to diminish and finally disappear in the defining event of normalization. Regrettably, busy teachers often involve themselves too much with children due to over-concern for their academic progress.

Busy Teachers
“While the teacher is busy with one child, the others misbehave.”

Dr. Maria Montessori from Absorbent Mind, p.246

Some teachers become so busy with the academic work of individual children that they overlook the higher priority need for resolving misbehavior elsewhere in the environment. Violating important protocols, such as don’t interrupt concentration and enhance independence, these busy teachers tend to bring about misbehavior by abandoning those children who most need their attention to stay focused on present-moment reality. Understanding the principles of non-intervention, you must instead use an indirect type of interaction to control the environment, not the child.

Understanding the Principles
“Even an intelligent teacher who has understood the principles finds it very difficult to put into practice…it is her duty to distinguish between acts which should be prevented and those which should be observed.”

Dr. Maria Montessori from Discovery of the Child, p.50-51

Montessori teaching is a way of being committed to laws of nature that closely correspond with such basic principles as (1) Observation (2) Individual Liberty and (3) Preparation of the Environment. Understanding these principles, however, is only possible by expanding their meaning through direct real-life experiences with children. Your experiential understanding will then guide you ultimately to a position of passively watching children in their normal self-directed activity with each other.

“The children are moving about, each fulfilling his own task, whilst the teacher is in a corner watching.”

Dr. Maria Montessori
from Dr. Montessori’s Own Hand. , p. 59

Following laws of nature, you are creating conditions that allow children to normalize by returning to their true natural state of complete peace, order and harmony as described by Dr. Montessori. However, you can only create the right normalizing conditions in an objective scientific manner by using technology you can actually understand and employ in practice. The IMS technology serves this purpose, leading you to ultimately remain quietly watching children who don’t even notice your presence at all. However, before you can become “nobody” to children, you must learn the precise knowledge involved in resolving misbehavior, which may require a long period of trial and error learning as you practice the proper technology with children over a long period of time.

Precise Knowledge
“The teacher…has many difficult functions…She must acquire a precise knowledge of the techniques…for dealing with the child.”

Dr. Maria Montessori from Discovery of the Child , p. 150-51

Sadly, Montessori proponents often maintain self-defeating ideas that project on children to continue their patterns of misbehavior. Following these ideas, your conventional teaching will not bring about the normalized children promised by Dr. Montessori. Resolving misbehavior, however, is quite possible by simply following the IMS technology to bring about stable and certain normal being in children.