Obedience According to Maria Montessori

Obedience is closely related to will, according to Maria Montessori. Therefore, it's important to let children develop obedience in a natural way. How? Read on.
Obedience According to Maria Montessori
Mara Amor López

Written and verified by the psychologist Mara Amor López.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

To understand obedience according to Maria Montessori, it’s necessary to understand the relationship between will and obedience. Many people think that the Montessori methodology, whose premise is that we must, “Follow the child”, means that we have to, “Allow the child to do whatever they want”, but that isn’t actually the case.

Obedience is one of the key parts of Montessori education, but seen in a more natural way, without forcing and without imposing. So, what does the Montessori method want to tell us about obedience? How can we obtain this while respecting our child’s nature and without forcing anything? We invite you to continue reading this article to get the answers to these questions.

“If we want to help life, the first condition for success is that we must know what laws govern it.”

-Maria Montessori-

Obedience according to Maria Montessori

In Montessori philosophy, it’s fundamental to comprehend the laws of nature in order to understand the reason for everything that Montessori proposes.

A child sitting on a staircase.

According to Maria Montessori, obedience is, “A teacher that gives orders to children regarding what to do, and they obey when they become aware of the order.” (The absorbent mind).

What’s this absorbent mind? Maria says the following:

“Children are like sponges, they acquire most of the knowledge they get almost without realizing it and without effort, they don’t need anyone to teach them intentionally. They learn by observing, listening, living, and feeling”.

Thus, Maria Montessori said that we could understand obedience in two ways:

  • The teacher or parent who gives orders with harshness and imposition to children regarding each of their actions. And, faced with this situation, the child can act in two ways: to desist from developing their own will or to fight against the teacher or against their parent. Neither of these ways of acting is good for the child.
  • Think of obedience as part of a natural process that develops in the child. If we give them space to develop their will, they’ll obey because they choose to.

And this is what we want to happen. We want our children to learn to obey without impositions and without servitude. We don’t want our children to obey blindly or mindlessly. Of course, nor is it a matter of taking things to the other extreme–that of disobedience and chaos. Freedom and discipline are two key parts that can’t exist independently of one another.

The three levels of obedience according to Montessori

For children to develop healthy obedience, the first thing we must work on is to develop their will. Maria Montessori proposed three levels for its development. The first level is when the child’s will is directed by their natural instincts. In the second level, the child’s will becomes conscious. And finally, in the third and final level, the child controls their will consciously and shows a willingness to obey.

The first level of obedience

This level occurs in children under three years of age. Here, they obey according to their natural impulses; they haven’t yet developed the consciousness or will to obey their caregivers.

Therefore, in order to obey, the child must first develop their will, and this will take place through practice and will gradually move on to the next levels.

The second level of obedience

Once the child, with practice, has developed his will, they can obey all the time. They use their will to follow yours. And although this seems to be the ultimate goal, Maria Montessori observed another, higher level of obedience.

The third level of obedience

Here, the child’s mental development is superior and they’re able to understand that their parents want and desire the best for them, and they realize that they want that, too. Therefore, they’ll realize that if they pick up their toys, they’ll have a tidy room that they’ll like better. And, consequently, they’ll want to put away the things they take out because they know it’s the best thing to do.

Developing a child’s will with practice

Children can use their will to obtain the level of obedience that’s desired. This will, like everything else, can be trained through practice, but how can we practice this will?

  • Always avoid influencing children’s tastes and preferences with our decisions.
A child peeking our from under his mother.
  • Always apply consequences for their actions instead of punishments. When the child refuses, for example, to pick up his toys, we can’t get into a power struggle to see who wins. That’s when, with a firm and calm attitude, we must say to them, “It seems that you don’t want your toys because you don’t want to pick them up”. At that moment, the child’s faced with two options, so they’ll start to obey when they see which is the smarter option. And, of course, we must always apply the consequences we impose.
  • Avoid making decisions that seem “better” to us after the child has already made their choice. For example, if they’ve decided to eat a ham sandwich, don’t tell him it’s better to eat a turkey sandwich, which is healthier. If we change their choice once they’ve already made it, the child will feel ignored and you’ll get into a power struggle.
  • Provide them with several options to encourage their freedom to choose. For example, you can ask if they want to go to the park or to the mall, if they prefer milk or juice, or if they want to ride on the slide or on the swing.

Obedience according to Montessori in education

We’ve already seen that obedience is closely related to will and that it’s essential for children to develop their will in a natural way, without forcing anything and without compulsion. To apply obedience according to Maria Montessori is to let our children develop a will and be able to understand that obeying’s nothing more than doing something that will be positive for them.

It’s become clear that, like everything else, this is something that children can practice, and there are some options we can follow to get our children to develop healthy obedience. With patience, love, and creativity, we can apply practice exercises that help develop the will that’s growing in our children.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Montessori, Maria. (1915). Manual práctico del Método Montessori. Barcelona: Araluce.
  • Montessori, Maria. (1984). El niño: el secreto de la infancia. México: Diana.
  • Montessori, Maria. (2004). The Absorbent Mind.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.