Setting Limits the Montessori Way

By Rubi

Being a mother is one of the biggest challenges I will ever have.  In my opinion, caring for a tiny human being could be one of the most rewarding things in the world and the most stressful thing at the same time.

Now that F is able to walk everywhere, she doesn’t want to stop (which actually makes me really happy, unlike some other parents who complain about this issue). F is free to move and touch almost everything around the house.

As she grows and gains more confidence she shows her temperament in different ways.  Most of the time she has a hard time understanding that there are things she is not allowed to do such as:

  • Hitting the glass door with her toys or materials
  • Hitting her friends with her  xylophone’s mallet
  • Grabbing the toys from her friend’s hands (Over and over. She follows them and takes or wants whatever the other child has.)
  • Screaming at her friends in the face to get a toy back
  • Walking while eating or drinking

F 10 months and K 6 months

All of those things are really hard to understand for a 14 month old child, who now has her hands free to explore and very little language skills. That being said I strongly believe that it is important to set limits and set up the foundations for care, love and respect.

We are also welcoming her friend K (10 months) into our home and I want F to be respectful and show her positive behaviour. K will stay with us 5 days a week and I want her to have a pleasant experience and feel safe, as well.

When I was working in a primary environment (children 3 to 6), at VMS, I learned that consistency is the main key when you are trying to set up boundaries. For example, sometimes I had to show a child how to tuck in their chair over and over until they internalized the concept. It was such a joy to see that proud child showing their friends how to tuck in a chair in a respectful and loving way. I realized that it was all worth it.

Here are some examples of the way I guide F when she shows behaviour that is not appropriate:

If F is hitting the glass door with a toy, I walk towards her, get to her eye level and calmly say “F No!” I show her how the toy works and give it back to her; if she hits the glass again I gently remove the toy from her hands and say: “It is time to put this toy away, since you are not using it properly” (even if she cries). I make sure to observe if she is hungry, tired, frustrated or just needs attention from Mommy. It is important to remember that a child this age may hit or act this way out of frustration or anger, or just to discover how others will respond if she has this behaviour. Sometimes they need an adult to consistently provide limits until they have internalized their limits and can successfully manage their impulses.


I like the way Deborah Carlisle Solomon addresses setting limits in her book, Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE Way: “Sometimes a toddler will give a little push to another child who is in her way, and that is the end of it. At other times, it’s plain to see that there is more energy behind the push, it may signal the beginning of more aggression. Then it may be necessary to squat down on their level. Your peaceful presence may be enough to prevent things from escalating…..If one or both children continue trying to hit or push, you may put one hand between them so that it won’t be possible for one child to hit or push the other…… Do your best to set limits clearly and calmly, without judgment or alarm.” (At the beginning when F started hitting I was alarmed and concern. I decided to analyze the situation and go back to do more reading. That made me realize that it is a normal behaviour in a young child and it is up to me to address it properly)

When her friends come over and she consistently takes the toys away from them and they get frustrated and cry. I get F’s attention and say: “F, _____ is playing with the puzzle. You can have something else,” and I give her another option or options. I do not say “you have to share,” since it is important that she understands that another child is using that toy and she can play with the toy as soon as it is available. If the other child doesn’t care that F took the toy away from him/her and moves onto a different toy, I normally say nothing since it is nice to allow them the opportunity to resolve their issues.

When she hits another child I immediately stop her from doing it and give positive attention to the other child and say: “I am sorry F hit you.”  If the child lets me hug him/her then I do it.  F gets upset and wants me to pick her up immediately. I just say: “F you have to touch him/her gently” and show her how to touch her friends.


F is a loving and a very active child who is learning that there are many things in this world that she is not able to do and that there are some limitations in her environment. She also gets frustrated when this happens and she shows that she is upset, needs attention, or she is tired. She likes to get people’s attention. I just have to show her that she will not get positive attention when she does things that are not safe for her or her friends.

I know I have to be patient and consistent because she will eventually stop hitting and will touch her friends gently.  She will learn how to respect and care for them, as well as respect her toys, materials and environment.


Filed under 12-18 Months, Discipline, Rubi

5 responses to “Setting Limits the Montessori Way

  1. Marie

    Hi Rubi. We are going through the same stage with my baby. She is 15 month and really testing me. She is also very whiny. She cries when she can’t have what she wants. I try to explain her calmly why she can’t have such and such things and distract her with something else but it doesn’t works. Do you have the same problem ? Kind regards. Marie

    • Dear Marie,
      Indeed F constantly whines when she wants something that she can’t have or wants attention. I have observed the way my husband responds to her since she does it more to me. He looks at her and says no, F you can’t have it and he moves on, keeps doing his own thing, F follows him and whines again, he does the same thing he did before and tries to give her a toy, usually she stops there, sometimes she whines once more, my husband then focuses on whatever he is doing and finally F finds something else to do.
      I don’t think he is ignoring her, rather he is saying no, you can’t have it because it is dangerous, moves on. If she does it again, he gives her options, if she does it again, he then sets his limits and is not ready to continue that conversation.
      I started doing the same thing and she started whining a little bit less. Try to use very simple words when explaining why she can’t have whatever she wants (in this case less language is better because they are upset and can’t understand reasons of why they can’t have a toy or something, they can also get lost with too many words) It is a lot of work, be patient and consistent.
      I hope this helps.

  2. Diara

    This post is really timely because I’m living the same situations with my 14 month old. I’m sometimes thinking “where did my cute little boy go?” and I’m realizing that being kind and non-judgmental is becoming a challenge. Thank you very much for your insights. It will help me. In particular the importance of getting down at his level to talk to him gently but firmly.

  3. Thank you Diara. I am glad this helps.
    Keep up the hard work with your little one.

  4. Pingback: Highlights of 2014 | Montessori Moms

Leave a Reply to Marie Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s