How setting limits creates freedom, allows creativity

At a neighborhood coffee, Cheryl announced that she had stopped eating sugar.  Several women gasped at the thought. “But that’s so limiting,” said one.

Cheryl smiled and said, “Actually I find the limitation is quite freeing.  I don’t worry any more whether I should eat something or not.  Drawing the line at no sugar has increased my freedom and creativity in what I do eat.”

An interesting thought, that by actually limiting one’s actions or choices, a newfound freedom is found in the choices still available.

When we set clear limits for our young children, and help our older children set their own limits, we actually tap into a way to help our children focus on developing and learning certain skills.  When our children become responsible within the parameters we have chosen and start “bumping” into their boundaries, we know that it is time to enlarge those limits.

As we watch our children and work with them, we’ll see them push the limits we’ve set over and over, regardless of the consequences.  That’s what they are supposed to do to learn.  What becomes critical is that we keep the avenues of communication open by using family meetings and other communication skills, such as listening, offering limited choices, observation and more.

If we are watching and listening our children, they will tell us the next steps we need to take together to allow them to attain the independence and concentration required for positive growth.

We can set limits using natural consequences. Growing up we had a big thermometer and the family rule was to put on a sweater when it got to 55 degrees, or of course, if you felt cold.  My mother never told us to put on our coats. She allowed natural consequences, and trusted us to make the right decisions.   We learned if you forget your coat in cold weather, you’d get cold; if you’re cold, then go get your coat.

We can also use logical consequences to set limits.  This is trickier to do and many parents use natural and logical consequences as a form of punishment, which is not what we want to do.  We want to use consequences to provide timely and accurate feedback to our children about their decisions.  If we forgot our lunch or lunch money, my mother didn’t bring our lunch to us.  Another family rule, or limit, was that we were supposed to always have one day’s lunch money in our pencil bag in case we forgot our lunch.  If we didn’t have lunch money we had to figure out a way to get some.  Needless to say, it only took a couple of times of forgetting our lunch bags, and all five of us learned to remember our lunch and lunch money.

The consequences that are most effective are the ones developed in conjunction with our children in problem solving for a solution.  Perhaps there is a persistent problem in your household, for example, leaving late almost everyday for school and work.  Pose the question:  What can we do together to make sure everyone is ready to go?  List the possible solutions.  Choose one.  What should happen if someone is not ready by the agreed on time?  Who will enforce the agreed upon solution?

When our children are part of the solution they will be more cooperative when the agreement is enforced, as well as be more creative in finding a win-win situation.  Remember, that if the solution isn’t working start another problem solving session to address the same problem.

Setting limits allows freedom, responsibility and creativity to flourish in our children.  That’s a lot sweeter than sugar.

Blue Ribbon News special contributor, author, Montessori educator, and child behavior specialist Maren Schmidt.

Read more from Maren Schmidt:

Welcome mistakes, be friendly with error

Why it’s important to establish routines with our children

Do you know who your children are?

Think before you talk

An iron hand in a velvet glove

Children ain’t misbehavin’

Montessori teachers credo: to be a help to life

Written by Blue Ribbon News special contributor Maren Schmidt, Kids Talk TM deals with childhood development issues.  Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland. She has more than 25 years experience working with children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is author of Building Cathedrals Not Walls: Essays for Parents and Teachers.  Contact her at  Copyright 2012.