Freedom Within Limits

Freedom Within Limits

Everyone will have their own interpretation of the terms ‘freedom’ and ‘limits’ and how they apply to their family. Parents get worried that if you give your child freedom that they will run wild – the old give an inch take a mile type situation. This would absolutely be the case if you didn’t also give your child set limits to go with those freedoms. 

Freedom within limits takes away the parents being perceived as ‘controlling’. Giving your child these simple ‘freedoms’ allows them to develop their sense of self worth and independence and to feel like their choices matter. It also promotes a feeling of ‘known’ which equals safety and predictability for a child. By simply allowing your child these little freedoms you will notice so many less tantrums! Woohoo! This strategy is absolutely perfect for children with Pathological Demand Avoidance or Oppositional Defiance Disorder as it ‘puts the ball in their court’ so it reduces their stress response to a perceived demand – because there is no demand or outright command, only options that they get to choose from. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder and anxiety also find this strategy particularly calming and helpful.

An example of freedom within limits might be that you give your toddler the freedom to choose what they want to eat for morning tea. The limit that you might set would be that they can choose between an apple or an orange. Giving your toddler unlimited choices of what they want to eat would be very overwhelming for them and would probably cause a tantrum from frustration or them eating chocolate biscuits for every meal! The idea is that you give your child two to three options to choose from that YOU are happy with. It is important to remember that too many choices can also be overwhelming so keep it simple. Keep redirecting the child back to the options you have given if they suggest something else.

With older children, you can hear their negotiations and ask them to problem solve and work together to change the parameters. When doing this it is important to let them know that you have changed your mind because you have reconsidered their points and not because of any tantrums, nagging or pressure on their behalf (never give in to these – these are learned behaviours and will only escalate!). You can learn more about this in the Parenting course in the chapter ‘Creating Independence in Older Children’. 

In a Montessori classroom environment some freedoms within limits could be:

  • Children can move around freely in the classroom as long as they are not distracting others.
  • That they can join others to do activities or to play but they must ask first and get a ‘yes’ response.
  • The child can only use materials that they have been presented a lesson on.
  • Writing checklists for work to be completed collaboratively with older children.

These also work fabulously in the homeschool environment. Homeschooling is a great alternative for a lot of children. Some examples in the homeschool environment could be:

  • The child can choose to do the allocated work in their own time, at their own pace provided it is completed by a set deadline (e.g. the end of the week).
  • The child can choose to do projects/assignments in areas of their interest, provided key learning outcomes are met.

Some examples of freedom within limits in everyday home life could be:

  • The child can choose the fruit they would like for morning tea (freedom)  from the fruit bowl (limit).
  • The child can wake up whenever they like, but cannot leave their bedroom until a set time (in my house the girls can lay in bed and read quietly or play quietly if they wake up early but cannot come and get me until 6.30am! This works a treat!).
  • The child can choose what tv show they want to watch, and they get 1 episode a day then the tv (or iPad) goes off.
  • The child can choose the order of their morning routine as long as it gets completed by a set time.
  • The child can choose whatever they want to wear from a previously selected (by you) range.

These may seem like simple things, even non-events to you, but by giving opportunities for all these little choices you are building valuable life skills in your little one and setting them up for success later in life. You are also minimising their need to ‘rebel’ against you by giving them this ‘control’ which means less tantrums and a happier family life!

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