Our world is full of endless places to explore, and it’s no wonder our little ones don’t like being contained. By allowing your child a healthy amount of freedom, while still being mindful of their safety, it can promote a healthy level of independence and confidence. “Let us leave the life free to develop within the limits of the good, and let us observe this inner life developing. This is the whole of our mission.” Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook.
What does “freedom with limits” mean? Children enter this world ready to absorb and learn, however, it’s important to make sure they are properly instructed and guided before setting them free. For example, before working on a project that involves scissors, you would first show your child how to safely use them, and then you would allow them to freely create their masterpiece. Before allowing your child to enjoy swimming, you would first teach them how to safely do so. “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.” Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind. It’s also important that your child does not use their newfound freedom to interfere with another child’s work or play. Freedom goes hand in hand with respect.
Our children are constantly looking to us for guidance. They may think they want endless freedom to do anything they want, when in reality, children typically thrive on structure and rules. Having too much freedom can actually be scary and overwhelming for little ones. This may cause them to act out by becoming whiny, clingy, or defiant. It may seem counterintuitive that a child who is seeking freedom actually craves structure, but this is why “freedom with limits” is so important. On the other hand, by giving your child too much discipline and not allowing them any freedom, this can also cause them to act out and crave independence. By allowing your child to explore and engage in new activities after you have equipped them with the proper tools and knowledge, they will feel the satisfaction of freedom and the safety of boundaries.
Oftentimes, adults use their authority and expect children to listen to them without question or explanation. In reality, this might actually be counterproductive, as children always want to know why they have to do something or act a certain way. By explaining to your child your reasoning behind asking them to complete a chore, or for telling them they cannot do something, it will help them acquire a beneficial, long term sense of responsibility and self discipline, which will lead to the independence they are seeking.
Let your little one explore and enjoy this amazing world, but make sure the proper boundaries are in place to ensure their safety and success. Allow them the freedom they need to grow as their own person, but still create limits that will encourage them to explore appropriately. Your child will always want to grow up faster than you want them to, and it’s important to find a balance between a healthy level of responsibility and freedom.