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Freedom within Limits

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

“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.” - Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Since becoming interested in Montessori a few years ago I've noticed there's quite a few common misconceptions floating around. One of the most widespread ones I hear from parents is that around freedom and discipline. Parents either tend to think that Montessori is totally rigid and children are like little robots; or it's the other extreme, where they think children are allowed to do exactly what they like.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Dr. Montessori referred to it as freedom within limits. It is through this careful balance that the child develops self-confidence, autonomy, self respect and also respect for others in their wider world. Furthermore it allows parents to step back and give the child freedom to really be themselves and develop in a unfettered state.

Now I know it sounds a bit contradictory so bear with me while I explain more. When we think of freedom within limits in a Montessori home this means considering the following aspects:

Prepared environment

Having a prepared environment means you’ve examined your home and have made revisions so that your child has freedom to develop independently and safely. The limits on the child are kept to a minimum. By this I mean it's OK to have plants that are not for play. Instead we teach the child how to care for it. Setting boundaries are necessary.

Ground rules

You’ve compiled a short but concise list of ground rules that clearly lay out expectations of behaviour. These ground rules are explained regularly and adhered to respectfully and consistently.

Setting clear expectations

Have clear expectations based on age and development. Explain them ahead of time, and then following through with those boundaries in a respectful empathetic manner.

Preparation of the adult

A lot of parents say that they struggle with staying calm when faced with a child who’s displaying behaviour that is challenging. You are definitely not alone. A lot of behaviours can be triggering and parents can feel lost in understanding their own reactions, let alone their child’s. If this is resonating with you then there are books which can help, or it may be worth considering therapy or counselling. Putting a value of your own self care is critical too. Look after yourself, so you can attend to your child’s needs.

Understanding your child

Understanding where your child is developmentally. Being realistic about what is age appropriate for them at this time?


Choosing to use positive language choices to reflect what your child can do as opposed to what they can't.

Providing (controlled) choices

Giving age-appropriate controlled choices helps to limit tensions and provides opportunities for self-proficiency and autonomy.

So, it's more in-depth than you may have first considered but I hope you can also begin to see that it is an empowering concept for families to embrace. It holds the notion of the child as being capable of learning and doing for themselves. Yes, children will still make mistakes, but we're there to guide them, support them through their feelings, and show them the natural consequences of their actions. We help them to repair any damage caused and do not punish. In Montessori terms 'discipline' doesn’t mean to give a punishment. It means “to teach” or “to learn” (from the root word “disciple”).

Freedom within limits encourages children to become respectful members of the family unit. Real life experience teach them that freedom means learning to make good decisions, not just for them, but for others too. The rules helps them flourish and develop with confidence.

What does freedom within limits look like in your home?

Co-authored and edited by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron

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