Freedom within limits- Montessori parenting pillars

Remember the days your house is filled with clutter or you visit an overbearing relative, or the time your parents restricted you from doing something? How did you feel then?
The point I’m trying to make is, one cannot flourish, work with purpose or think effectively in an environment we don’t feel completely comfortable of free in. Now that we have established that the child flourishes in a rich environment that she explores and learns from, herself, we realise that the child, a lot like adults needs freedom. Guided freedom or freedom within a framework of limits.Freedom and discipline are two sides of the same coin, and scientific freedom invariably leads to discipline.

“To let the child do as he likes, when he has not yet developed any powers of control, is to betray the idea of freedom.”

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

We do a great disservice to the developing child if we do’t provide her, some clear boundaries within which she can explore freedom. Here are some simple ways once can set limits and give a child freedom at home. I try to follow the basic rules of respect for self, respect for others and respect for the environment.

1. WHY

Firstly, take a moment to think if there is a logical reason to the limit you’re setting. I usually avoid saying no unless it causes physical or emotional harm to herself or those around her.
Do I say no to her playing in damp sand because it is gross and I hate it, or something else?

Secondly, ensure that the reason is communicated to the child while setting the limit. “The sand has germs in it.Wash your hand as soon as we get home.”

Here the freedom of playing in sand is accompanied by the responsibility of washing up immediately. The upside of communicating a logical reason along with the limit to the child, is that she learns to think a lot more rationally.
Obviously, “because I said so” is not a good enough reason,


What is equally important is how these limits are communicated to the child.

A. CLARITY– Ensure that the words you use to communicate the rule or limit is very clear. Use as little words as necessary, as the average attention span of a toddler is little.

B. BEFORE– Communicating the limit before the activity is necessary so that the child has time to prepare herself.

C. WITH LOVE– Something I learned as a teacher, is that authority is not effective. Make sure you let the child know of the limits gently, and with love.

D- ACKNOWLEDGE – There will be some days that the child does not comply with the limits. Acknowledge their feelings and reasons. But stay firm.

E. CHOICE– In some cases, a choice maybe involved. Do not be vague with your choices. For example, “Would you prefer chapati or idli for dinner?” is a better, do-able and limited choice that empowers a child than “What would you like for dinner?” and getting a “Pasta” as an answer.

Let me give a personal example of park time. V loves the outdoors and getting her home by 7 p.m is quite a task. But then, 7 p.m is our limit. Here is what I do, stepwise.
I remind her before we leave, that she has 2 hours to spend as she likes. But the reason we need to get home at 7, is so that we can prep dinner together without chaos.
I give her a couple of reminders a few minutes before we need to leave in as simple and clear words as possible.
There are days that she refuses or has a tantrum. What works, is getting down to her level, looking into her eyes, and saying, “I understand that you want to play more. I know you are feeling frustrated. But we have to go back now, like we decided before. We will come back tomorrow.”


Sometimes, setting limits together as a family helps us. It helps us understand how each other thinks, and gives us a sense of onus and responsibility to stick to these limits.


Ensure that the limit takes your child’s capability into consideration. FOr example, at 2 years of age, the freedom of her choosing her own clothes would be accompanied by the limit of me setting out 2-3 sets for her to choose from. This was because too many options would overwhelm her. Now, at 3 years, she has access to all her pieces of clothing.
In that sense, the limits can be modified and loosened, as the child grows older.


I hear you thinking, “All this is fine. What happens if the child does not listen?” Obviously, there are about 2800 repetitions in store. The child may need many reminders. But it is best to let her correct her own actions, instead of us exercising our will on her.
However, there are exceptions, when I swoop in, when safety of her or others are involved. For example, if I see V hovering too close to the stove, I may not wait to remind her, I would carry her away first and then explain. Or if I see that she is going to push or get pushed by another child, I may decide to remove her from the scene and use my words immediately after.


Leave a Reply