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April's La Tela: how to set limits in a constructive way

Sent on Apr 26, 2022

Today I would like to tell you what I mean with the word "limits" and why limits are very important in Montessori education; I'll also give you 3 ideas to set limits in a healthy and constructive way.

When I say limits, I mean the rules that we have at home or in our society and that we must respect. Many parents interpret the Montessori concept of "following the child" as giving the child absolute freedom. But freedom doesn't mean that children can do whatever they want, because there is no freedom without limits.

The family is a small society and in any society we can be free to act and react only if we respect the rules of peaceful coexistence and respect for ourselves, others and the environment: educating to peace means educating to respect and this includes respecting the society's rules in which we live.

Limits in education should NOT repress, order or prohibit, but guide, build, and motivate.Limits shouldn't repress interests, take away the child's essence or undermine their self-esteem, because otherwise they don't build but destroy.

3 ideas

Here are 3 ideas I have used and still use with Oliver and Emily to set and enforce boundaries in a healthy way at home and outside.

  • Say less NO! When we parents say NO all the time, we not only inhibit our children's independence, but we risk repressing their interests and weakening their self-confidence. In addition, we confuse them, because they don't understand which NOs are really important and necessary. "Don't play with the ball at home" is different from "Don't touch the stove": the latter is really necessary!
  • Analyze the rules. Just like with the NOs we say, it's important to evaluate which rules are really important and necessary for us/our family, and eliminate the ones that are not: is "Don't play with the sofa cushions" a necessary rule or can we change it to "you can play with the cushions as long as you put them back"? In our family, this made a huge difference (and yes, we often do help clean up).
  • Change the sentence into positive. Did you know that when children hear "Don't do that" their brain registers "Do that"? "Don't" gets lost. When we realise that we are about to say a negative sentences, such as "DON'T stand on the chair!", we can instead try "On the chair we sit". It's not magic, but it gives the child's brain a concrete action, which means that they're more likely to do what we asked. It often works for us.

Food for thoughts:

We were raised with the mentality of hierarchy and authority: society wants us to believe that if our children don't listen to us, we are failing as parents. Honestly, it's not really like that. First of all, long-term education often means going against the flow and that can sometimes bring judgement onto us: we need to accept it and let it go. Remember: when people judge you, it says more about them than about you.

Then, imagine your kids as adults, just like you: do you want them to blindly listen to authorities (a teacher, an employer…), even if these authorities abuse their power, or do you want your kids to think for themselves and be able to call out an injustice? Do you want them to follow their friends without questioning them, or be confident enough to say "no"? 

I want my children to have a critical mind and recognise an abuse of power; I want them to know how to tell right from wrong and truly understand the difference; I want them to do the right thing not because someone tells them to (or because they can get into trouble), but because they choose to; I want them to admit when they are wrong. We can't achieve this by asking them for blind obedience and respect: the only way we can achieve it is by asking them to question authorities (even ours), challenge abuses of power (even ours) and have role models (us) who recognise and admit their own mistakes. Obedience is not the goal of long-term education: respect, self-confidence and a critical mind are.

Happy Tuesday and see you on La Tela.