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The Three Levels of Obedience

Discipline and obedience are not words you would hear in my house. I don't like the sound of them. They sounds rather harsh. Discipline isn't something I had to think about with Caspar. He is a very patient, well mannered and self disciplined child. Otis on the other hand feels like he's out of control sometimes. When I was reading the book Montessori Talk to Parents - The Road to Discipline I wanted to capture the section about the three levels of obedience. Understanding these three levels helps me to better understand Otis. 

Montessori shows obedience of the highest order is an obedience which emerges from the natural development of the child. Montessori Talks to Parents (Series One, Volume Two) The Road to Discipline NAMTA 1979.

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. - The Absorbent Mind. 

The First Level of Obedience

This is where Otis and I would believe all toddlers are. A period whereby a child can obey but not always. It is a period in which obedience and disobedience are combined. A child at this age is dominated by his natural urges. 

Before the child is three he cannot obey unless the order he receives corresponds with one of his vital urges. - The Absorbent Mind. 

And his ability to obey is often dictated by his physical/actual capabilities.

In order to obey one must not only to wish but also be able to obey. To carry out an order one must already possess some degree of maturity and a measure of the special skill that it many need.  Hence we first have to know whether the child's obedience is practically possible at the level of development the child has reached...If the child is not yet master of his actions, if he cannot obey even his own will, so much the less can he obey the will of someone else. - The Absorbent Mind. 

I love these words from Maria Montessori. Please don't feel bad for rushing your child but her words are surely a convincing  argument for slowing down...

Small children, who are making their first solitary efforts, are very slow in carrying out their actions. Their life thus is ruled by special laws quite different from our own. Little children take great pleasure in performing slowly and deliberately many complex actions, for example, dressing and undressing, cleaning up the room, washing themselves, setting the table, eating and so forth. In all these activities they are most pertinent, and they carry their laborious efforts to a conclusion, surmounting all the difficulties that confront an organism still in its formative state. But we, when we see a child "toiling" and "wasting time" in doing something we could do in a moment and without the least difficulty, substitute ourselves for him and do it instead... we clothe and wash a child and take from his hands objects which he ardently wants to handle. We pour soup into his bowl, feed him, and clear the table. And after we have served him in this way, we judge him harshly, as always happens when one patronises another as being awkward and helpless. We often look upon a child as being impatient simple because we do not have the patience ourselves to let him carry out the acts according to his own tempo, which is different from our own. - The Discovery of the Child. 


The Second Level of Obedience

A period when the child can always obey, when there are no obstacles deriving from his lack of control. His powers are now consolidated and can be directed not only by his own will, but by the will of another. The child can absorb another person's wishes and express them in his own behaviour. - The Absorbent Mind. 


The Third Level of Obedience

The third level of obedience is when the child gets joy and pleasure from unquestionably obeying someone superior, not matter the request, such as obeying a respected and much loved teacher without question.

He obeys with astonishing readiness, and seems anxious to do so. - The Absorbent Mind. 

The power to obey is the last phase in development of the will, which in turn has made obedience possible. Montessori considers obedience occurring as a final stage in the development of the will. 


These words especially resonated with me...

Probably the typical mother could get along very well with a fifth of the commands which she issues to her child everyday.

 But when a child is called, then he must come. There must never be any exception to this. If he is permitted once to resist, the way is opened up for further resistance.

 Here is the law and the gospel: Do not call a child, if there is any way out of it, when he is deeply immersed in play or work. Bear in mind that concentration is a desirable quality in a child and that this presents a problem in causing him to be very responsive to incessant commands.

- Minding "On The Dot" by M.V O'Shea in Montessori Talks to Parents (Series One, Volume Two) The Road to Discipline NAMTA 1979.


Anyone else feeling overwhelmed by their toddler?


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