Setting Boundaries: How to Give Your Child Freedom Within Limits

Parents often misunderstand the Montessori philosophy, “follow the child”. They think it means to allow the child to do whatever they want, therefore, don’t set boundaries for the child. However, Maria Montessori taught “freedom within limits”, which means giving the child freedom to choose within clear boundaries. Here are some insights to help you do that.

Know Your Values

When parents are unclear about their values, they project confusion and insecurity, and are unable to set and hold boundaries with their children. Kids can sense this. The reason we are unable to institute boundaries is due to fear. Fear of losing the image of ourselves as a good parent. We want to be liked. We want to be approved by our kids and others. We want to have control over what our kids think of us. 

Embody Your Boundaries

Boundaries are more energetic than physical. Therefore, they need to be embodied and felt more than thought about and enforced. Clear boundaries are essential. They become naturally present when one is connected to the inner self. When values are embodied, they are immediately felt by others. No words or conversation needs to occur. Therefore, it’s a reminder of the work we need to do from within to become more self aware.

Maintain an Uncluttered Schedule and Physical Space

Survey the home environment. Check yourself and ask: What is my morning schedule like? Am I calm or rushed? What is my energy like before I wake my child up? Do we leave enough time for a relaxed time before school? What is my schedule like when they get home? What about their schedule after school? What does the physical space look and feel like?

You cannot have boundaries if you have clutter in your schedule and clutter in your physical space. Clutter in the schedule or in physical space is because of a lack of internal boundaries. When you have clarity of space, clarity of schedule, clarity of your needs, expectations and presence - then you can institute boundaries.

Ask Yourself These Questions When Setting Boundaries

  1. Does this boundary serve my own and my child’s highest interests?

Many of the boundaries we make for our children emerge out of our own laziness, passivity and desire for comfort. We may push our children to go to bed early because we are tired and need to wake up the next day. Then when they are not tired enough, there’s a battle and we end up calling this a boundary violation when in fact the child did nothing wrong.

  1. Is this boundary life-enhancing or ego enhancing?

In other words, does this boundary enhance my child’s life, energy and sense of joy? Or do I want to put it in place because it takes care of me and my needs? Life enhancing boundaries are respect for self (hygiene, self care), respect for others, respect for education (attend school), respect for environment, respect for connection.

  1. Is this boundary negotiable or non-negotiable?

Many of our boundaries are not life-threatening so they can be negotiable boundaries, aka “sand boundaries”. I am constantly reminding parents to have mostly negotiable boundaries so that the child experiences a sense of inner willingness and motivation, as opposed to being pushed and persuaded.

If the boundary is life-threatening, then it needs to be non-negotiable and needs to be set in stone. Here, I caution parents not to have too many stone boundaries or else they will set themselves up for rebellion and defiance from their children. Children like to feel empowered and sovereign to make their own decisions. Too many strict boundaries will cause an uprising within them and they will revolt.