Does Misbehavior Really Exist?

Most parents struggle with how to handle misbehavior in their children.  But does misbehavior really exist?  Or is it actually the absence of something else that’s the real thing?

As a physician and scientist, Montessori notices,

Children’s defects of character are not always regarded as bad by public opinion.  Some are even valued.  Passive children are thought to be good.  Noisy and exuberant children with vivid imaginations are thought to be specially brilliant or even superior.

We may say that society groups them like this:

1.  Those whose defects need correction;
2.  Those who are good (passive) and to be taken as models;
3.  Those thought to be superior.

The last two belong to the so-called desirable types and the parents are very proud of them, even when (as happens with the last type) their company is none too agreeable.

The absorbent mind, holt, rinehart, and winston, 1967, p 201

In contrast to these commonly held societal opinions, Montessori classifies all defects of children under two headings:

. . . those shown by strong children (who resist and overcome the obstacles they meet) and those shown by weak children (who succumb to unfavorable conditions).

ibid., p 197

Deal with fewer tantrums in 3 days (or less!)

The defective traits

Defective traits that Montessori noticed in strong children are:

  • capriciousness and tendencies to violence
  • fits of rage
  • insubordination
  • aggression
  • disobedience
  • a destructive instinct
  • possessiveness
  • selfishness and envy
  • an inability to concentrate
  • noise-making
  • unkindness to those weaker than they

In weak children, Montessori saw:

  • passivity
  • indolence and idleness
  • a tendency to want others to serve them
  • a desire to be entertained
  • clinginess to adults
  • fright toward most things
  • untruthfulness
  • a tendency to steal

The Dottoressa, as she was called, came to a fascinating discovery in her schools: when children began to deeply concentrate on a piece of work that interested them, the defective traits in both strong and weak children began to vanish (emphasis original, ibid., p. 201-202).

It’s this disappearance of defective traits in children who learned to deeply concentrate that Maria Montessori called “normalization”. She declared this phenomenon to be

the most important single result of our whole work.

ibid., p. 204

How is this helpful to know?

How can you apply Montessori’s discovery in your own family, thereby improving your children’s behavior?  The answer is simple, though often not easy: make your home environment a place where your children are encouraged to concentrate.

This cannot be a direct command: “Okay, children, now it’s time to concentrate!  Here, concentrate on this toy.”  This would be like what Shinichi Suzuki protested against: a farmer holding a seed in his hand and shouting at it, “Sprout!  Sprout!  Sprout!”  It just doesn’t work this way.

Rather, fill your home with interesting activities to catch your child’s attention, so that your child will spontaneously begin to concentrate independently.  Over time, your children should grow in peacefulness and independence through this process of normalization.

Concentration vs. distraction

It’s critical to remember that concentration is not distraction.  Distraction is a child passively staring at a cell phone while Mom is doing her grocery shopping.  As soon as the movie is over, this child begins whining and looking for the next piece of passive entertainment.  Concentration is a child actively and peacefully drawing and coloring a blank piece of paper for 45 minutes.  And when the child is finished with this activity, often making the “Montessori sigh” of contentment, he begins looking for another interesting activity with which to occupy himself.

It seems that Montessori argues that misbehavior is not a real thing, but rather the absence of normalization. The way to correct this so-called misbehavior is to help your children learn to deeply concentrate.

In short, the ability for children to deeply concentrate is a prerequisite for good behavior.  Set up your home environment to foster concentration, and set your child on the road to better behavior.

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