Setting Limits Using the Montessori Approach

Parenting is extremely hard work. Children can be unpredictable and can often test our will. So what does it mean to be a “Montessori parent”? Does it just mean you send your child to a Montessori school? Is it possible to set limits at home using the Montessori approach? Can you still use the word “no”?

Absolutely! Children work in harmony in our classrooms by following our classroom ground rules. These ground rules are presented early in the school year and are practiced daily. When the rules are the same for everyone it creates a sense of fairness, safety and consistency for all.


The following are some ways you can use the Montessori approach at home:

· Make sure your rules or limits are CLEAR. These should be very basic so that they are easily understood. Reflect on your values as a family and develop a list. Some examples might be: clean up toys after we are done playing, sit at the table while eating and you may not hit your brother! When the rules are clear and understood they should be reinforced consistently.

· Set limits with LOVE. Get down on your child’s level and use a firm but loving voice when setting the limit. Manage your own emotions while setting the limit (this can be difficult, but remember, you are the adult) and show empathy and respect to your child if they are feeling sad or frustrated.

· Explain the REASON for the rule. “We don’t hit people because hitting hurts”, or “We have to leave the park now because it is time for lunch”. Understanding the reason for the rule leads to compliance.

· Make sure the rule or limit is AGE APPROPRIATE. Your child won’t always be 3 or 4 or 5. Be able to adjust your limits to the age and ability of your child. At some point, they will be teenagers and will readily test your limits in new and exciting ways! Consistency is key in all stages of development.

· As your child grows and gets older, you can INCLUDE them in the development of rules and limits. Nobody likes to be controlled, even children. Children want to be autonomous and need to be in order to grow into independent people. As they grow and mature, including them in the process can help to strike the right balance of freedom and limits.

· Above all, rules and limits need to be in place for the SAFETY of your child. Holding a child’s hand while crossing the street is not negotiable, it just must be done. Sometimes we just need to remove a child from danger.

Giving choices

When faced with resistance, give your child a choice, but only 2. Here is an example: if a child doesn’t want to put on his coat, give the following choice “You can wear you’re your hoodie or you can wear your jacket” You are still enforcing a limit (we need to wear a jacket) but your child is having a say by choosing which to wear.

Saying “No”

What about using the word “no”? The word No is powerful. That’s why 2 year olds love to use it so much! When setting limits using the Montessori approach, it is not always necessary to say “no”. When we say No to a child over and over, it tends to lose its power. Find a way to say no with a positive spin “We aren’t going to climb on the couch right now, let’s go outside so you can climb on the play set”. You can (and should) still say “no” to your child. However, it should be reserved for those times when you are really putting your foot down and enforcing a limit. That way it retains its power.

Above all, when setting and enforcing limits, love and respect your child. Will you always get it right? No! Of course not, there is no-such thing as a perfect parent! So cut yourself some slack as well. Try to do better the next time and know that you really are doing the best job that you can as a parent.

Written by our Preprimary teacher Terri Fisher.

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