Montessori education considers discipline as coming from within the child which is very different from the common thoughts of having a dominated and passive child, like in traditional education.

In a Montessori classroom, limits are not there to make the children obey or listen. They are set to support the group’s smooth function and each child’s development.

There are several freedoms:

  • Freedom to choose:

We appreciate that each child is unique and free to choose the activity he needs at this moment in time. This freedom feeds their natural need for independence.

  • Freedom of time:

Children are free to work with an activity for as long as they want, so they satisfy their needs. The children are free to repeat an activity until they are content and satisfied. However, the limit starts when the work is not constructive anymore.

  • Freedom of movement:

Children are free to work wherever they want such as on the floor, on a table, or on a mat, and can move as they need. The limit here is to be mindful of others.

  • Freedom of communication:

The children are free to speak with other children or with adults, as long as it is not interrupting or disrupting somebody engaged in a task.

  • Freedom of choosing companions:

The children can choose who they would like to work with or to work alone.

Like in any other place, the child is also shown limits.

  • Rules applicable to the community:

The children are shown how to respect themselves, others, and the environment.

Some examples would be:

  • Children may not hurt themselves, others, or materials.
  • Children do not disturb their peers in their work.
  • They need to put things back in their proper place.
  • They should speak softly and respectfully.

These limits are the same as we, adults, need to respect in our society

What is freedom?

  • Freedom is inherent in every individual and is needed for self-development.

We must understand that children are born with the drive to be free and to make their own decisions. We, adults, are their guide and the facilitator for them to make those decisions.

  • Freedom is the ability to decide, self-determine, and choose. Freedom means that children have to know what the available choices are to be able to make good choices. It implies that for every choice there’s a limit so that they can take responsibility for their choice.

Why should we give freedom to children?

  • Children need freedom. They are born to behave like little scientists and explorers. So let them roam freely, let them jump in the puddles, and let them get wet and dirty.
  • Providing freedom in an environment that encourages exploration is more important than giving lots of attention.
  • Children need to feel responsible they need to have a voice that counts and a role in their family.

Limits: what are they?

  • Limits in our context mean a point or level which cannot be extended or passed. So, it’s a line that we draw.
  • Another type of limit is a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible.

Why should we set limits with children?

Because none of us can just do what we want in life. It is necessary to set limits. Our role is to prepare our children to deal with what all life will throw at them, the good and the bad.

Setting limits in a respectful way

  • Be clear on the limits

What I’ve found helps is to have clear house rules. Not too many but just enough to be clear on what is important in our house and set according to our values. The rules aim to keep everyone safe and live more in harmony with others.

  • Don’t set the rule on the spot:

I think it is worth discussing these rules with the entire family and setting these rules that everyone would agree on. And why not stick them on the fridge or frame them in the living room so you can always refer to them?

  • Make the limits age-appropriate:

Your expectations should be appropriate for the child’s age, level of development, understanding, and ability to control his actions.

The three levels of obedience

In Montessori education, we believe that obedience is not something you impose, but is rather the result of a conscious will.

  • First level of obedience

It typically is present until the age of three. Here, the child is not ready to do what we are asking and is dominated by his natural urges.

During this stage, it can be hard on parents because the child can have violent and impulsive actions.  But it is important to understand that these are not conscious behaviors.

  • Second level of obedience

The child has now the capacity to always obey but still might not do it with great pleasure. He can do what he is asked, even though it is not in the best interest of his development. At this stage, obedience does not come from any sort of self-discipline.

  • Third level of obedience

The child follows the adult freely, willingly, and joyfully. Obedience becomes a natural reaction. He has the capacity to consider the implications of his actions and how they impact himself and others.

6 recommendations for setting limits

  1. Connect
  • Eye contact:

In a situation where your child is not cooperating, the key is to connect with your child.

The first thing to do is to bend down instead of picking them up to you. Then, make eye contact by making sure they look at you.

  • Be present:

We need to be fully present and give our full attention to our child in this moment of connection.

  1. Set rules
  • Make the consequences logical:

There should be a direct relationship so the child can make sense of it.

Example: Your child plays with a ball inside the house and breaks a vase.

  • DON’T: tell your child “We won’t go to the park this afternoon”
  • DO: tell your child “The ball goes and stays outside!”
  • Express the limit clearly and respectfully:

Using language such as: “I told you not to…” OR “Stop doing this!” belittle the child. We should use appropriate language such as “I can’t let you…” and “I am going to…”.


“I can’t let you hit this little boy. I am going to separate you”.

“I can’t let you jump on the couch with your shoes on. I am going to take you to the entrance and take your shoes off”.

  • NO need to express the limit every time:

Because they know the rule, they are just testing our limits.

  • Set limits for safety:

If our child’s behavior is dangerous, we should step in immediately and take him out of danger. We should say ‘NO’ to make it clear there is danger.

  • If they laugh?

Just follow through with kind and clear actions as the child may laugh to provoke a reaction from us. I know, it’s hard and frustrating, but if we remain calm, it has more impact.

  1. Follow through on what you say

Children need to know what to expect. They need to know that things are consistent and predictable. They need to get the same answer whether we had a rough day or a sleepless night. We need to follow through on anything we have said…and resist the urge to offer rewards and bribes to get what we want.

  1. Welcome any feelings

Of course, when we set limits, our children are not very happy. So, we need to acknowledge their feelings and see things from their perspective.

  • We should not minimize their feelings:

Children need to have their validated. We need to let them know that they are heard and that it is OK to feel sad. And asking if they want to talk about it can really help. By dismissing their feelings, we are telling them that they need to hide their emotions.

  • Listen with full attention:

We can sit with our child and allow him to talk without interrupting him. Only when he has finished talking, we can ask if he wants to hear what you want to say. What I find helpful to comfort a child, is to talk about a similar experience I had.

  • Guess their feelings instead of naming them:

If we say: “I know you are sad”, it is an assumption, a judgment. Instead, we make guesses about how they feel (“are you telling me you are upset we are leaving the park?”) or describe how they look (“You look really angry right now”).

  • Describe what is happening in a factual way:

This can give us some emotional distance during this difficult moment and avoid us to jump in to solve the problem.

Example: It is time to go but your hands are holding tight on the swing. I am using my hands to help you go. I am holding you close to me as we leave the park.

  • Let them release the full range of emotions

We need to show them we are able to love them even at their worst. All the emotions are accepted. It is only what they do with their emotions when we put limits.

  • What about us?

Parents should always allow themselves to step back and deal with their own emotions so that they can healthily deal with their children without attacking their character. The key is to be able to say, “I’m feeling angry” instead of “you are making me angry”.

  1. Helping children make amends
  • Making amends teaches our children to take responsibility for their actions. It shows that certain behaviors can have a negative impact on people or things. If we keep on fixing things for them, they won’t get the consequences of their actions.
  • Helping them to repair, and to make things as they were before is much more helpful to a child’s developing character than being sent to his room for doing something that wasn’t appropriate.
  • However, we should make sure that our child has calmed down, otherwise, he or she won’t be inclined to make things better.
  1. Move on

When it is over, clean slate. Every day is a new day.

Some unhelpful ways to get coperation

  • Blaming:

“Look at what you did, it’s a real mess”

Blame doesn’t lead to responsibility, and there is a good chance that next time, he or she will say: “it’s not me, it was him!”

  • Threats:

“If you don’t stop now, you go to your room”.

When children are young, threats may appear to work. But this is nothing more than a false sense of authority. Threats provoke fear in children, and they go against all the values of a healthy and positive education.

  • Bribes:

“If you put your jacket on now, you can have an ice cream later”.

If bribery becomes an ongoing pattern, it’s important to understand that it teaches your child to act out to get what he wants.

  • Constant repetition:

Sometimes it is better to take small actions rather than keeping on repeating ourselves.

  • Commands:

“Get off the phone this instant”. OR “Sit here, NOW!”

It is quite harsh and tends to worsen the problem.

  • Name calling:

Words like “Silly Billy” or “you’re really thoughtless” are hurtful and can damage the relationship and close off communication. So better not to put any labels on our children.

  • Comparing:

“Look at your friend Tom, he is so calm, why aren’t you like him?”.

Children want to please their parents and not being able to do so can make them anxious. It can lower their self-esteem when they start to believe that everybody is better than they are.

Using these kinds of discipline does not have a long-term effect and will erode the trust between the parents and the child.

What could we try instead?

  1. Involving the child
  • Give age-appropriate choices

We need to offer our children choices they can make. It gives our children a sense of control over the situation and involves them in the process.

  • Use one word

It’s really helpful to talk less each time. For example: “Could you please pack your shoes away.” When your child doesn’t listen the first time then you just say “your shoes please”, which can be repeated a few times until the child has followed up. Leave enough time in between the repetitions.

  • Get the child’s agreement

Getting an “OK” from our child gives a form of commitment to the deal. There is a better chance that he will follow through.

  • Give information

Giving a rationale can help our child to listen to us.

Example: “Please, go and get your coat on because it’s raining and it is very cold outside.”

  1. Managing our expectations
  • Have age-appropriate expectations.

It is important to avoid frustration for our children and for us.

A toddler cannot sit quietly in the doctor’s waiting room. They have a strong will to explore and move around. So, we should be prepared to entertain them because they won’t let us read a magazine peacefully.

  • Allow time for processing:

Sometimes, it is not that children are not listening to us. They just process things slower than we do.

What we can do is just wait a little bit, like 15 – 20 seconds. If nothing happens, you can repeat with one short word what we said. Often, the child will start to respond before that.

  • Try to wait until they are finished before making a request:

If we want our children to come to eat their lunch, the key is to wait until they are finished with what they are doing and ask them to join for lunch before they start the next activity.

  1. Problem-solving with children
  • Finding a way to work with your child will make him feel like they have some control over the situation.

So we can simply ask “How can we solve the problem?” and then, come up with solutions together.

  1. Talk in a way that helps them
  • Use positive language:

Instead of telling a child ‘what not to do’, we can tell him with positive language what we expect and what he can do.

Rather than “don’t run please”, you can say “we walk inside”.

  • Speak with a respectful tone and attitude:

Our tone of voice is a way to show our children that we respect them. A soft, gentle yet firm, and confident tone of voice is ideal.

Some unhelpful forms of encouragement: praise

Focuses on the end result or accomplishment Focuses on the effort or persistence
A judgment that includes a subjective opinion An observation
Non-specific and tends to obviously exaggerate Specific and does not exaggerate
Children begin to feel they need praise from others to be successful Children do not need encouragement to feel successful, but they do feel supported

On the surface, praise, and encouragement seem to be nearly identical reactions to an accomplishment. But there are, in fact, differences.What could we try instead?

  1. Describe what we see: focus on the process rather than on the result.
  • “You use blue and red paint. I see a swirl over here.”
  • “You look really pleased with yourself.”
  • “You got how to do it.”
  • “You got dressed all by yourself.”
  1. Sum it up with a word:
  • “You packed your bag to go to the gym. That’s what I call independence”.
  • “You helped your grandma with her bag. That’s what I call being thoughtful”.
  • “You wiped up the water on the floor without me asking. That’s what I call being resourceful”.
  1. Describe how you feel
  • “I am so excited for you!”
  • “It’s a pleasure to walk in a living room when everything has been put away.”

You can reach the author of this article, Marine Couturier, on