The Spiritual Preparation Of A Teacher (11)

What Maria Montessori says about the ‘Naughty Child’

Why does a child rebel, throw tantrums and get distressed when they don’t understand something?


Why are children naughty?

We fight over little things – toys, chores, tasks, do’s and don’ts. As parents and educators, our constant expectation is that the child will automatically understand all of our rules. Despite this expectation, we still believe that they are dependent upon us to survive.

We forget about their natural instincts to thrive in the world by exploring. We forget that we were once just like them. Yes, we can stop them from endangering themselves and we can teach them about society and limits. Still, how well will they listen, learn or understand when we are constantly at odds and calling them the ‘naughty one’. How do we address our own actions to improve their response?


Dr. Maria Montessori gave a series of talks over All India Radio in June 1948. In her talk she addresses the ‘naughty child’. They say that she is “The Voice That Speaks for the Child.”

What really surprised me was that the expectations adults have for children from the 1940s are not much different from what we expect from them today. We expect that children should:

  • Not Make Noise
  • Not Touch Items That Belong to Adults
  • Never Disobey

When they don’t follow these rules, we call them ‘Naughty’!

Adults feel the constant need to intervene in everything a child does. We correct them and stop their activities, expecting them to understand the ideals we see fit.

Montessori believes that when the adult ‘corrects and stops’ a child they prevent the child from their normal and natural development of their own individuality. A child’s natural reaction is to rebel against the adult. Just as rebelling is a natural reaction to their environment, so is their intent to explore and ‘break the rules’. It is important to remember that the adult is not perfect, either.

Here is a section from Maria Montessori’s talk that you will likely relate to:

“We are all familiar with the child’s disobedience, his resistance to the ‘Don’ts’ of the adult. But just as they refuse to be kept from acting, so the children refuse to be helped. They resist being washed: they rebel at being put to bed.

All this seems most unreasonable to the adult; it is illogical, whimsical, and he judges it to be just naughtiness. He cannot understand why, when the child does not know how to do a thing, he fights against help in doing it, although he really needs that help. It is sheer nonsense; the child is naughty, says the adult, and he forces help upon the child.

We all know how futile it is to try and change the child, how his disobedience, his naughtiness persists in spite of all our attempts at firmness—the most usual method, the most dynamic coaxing, persuasive reasoning and appeals to reason.

We achieve nothing by these means. And why?

It is because we are requiring of the child the impossible. We are exacting from him that he shall forfeit normal existence, cease growing, renounce developing as a human being. In this conflict between the adult and the child, who shall be the victor?”

 How can the adult resolve this conflict?

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You will find many stories of Montessori’s observations of the ‘naughty’ child. I found them very interesting. It is easy to relate to the concepts she discusses in this document, regardless of your nationality or culture.


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