Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Montessori Freedom: Setting Limits with Positive Statements (Part 2)

NAMC montessori Setting Limits with Positive Statements. young boy and girl smiling

In our previous blog, we discussed the importance of having consistent, predictable rules and limits in order for children to feel safe and secure. We also spoke about the fact that it is the environment and not the adult that presents these limits to the children. In this article, we discuss the importance of positive statements.

How we speak to children has a lot to do with how they will hear us.

In the previous blog, we discussed setting expectations ahead of time so that children know the limits and follow the rules. For example, to prevent children taking work off the shelves before receiving presentations you could say, “We only use materials after I have shown you how to use them.” Notice that this is a positive statement that tells the children when they can use the materials. They are not told that they cannot use the work. Dr. Silvia Dubovoy (Dubovoy, 2017) uses the phrase “In this place, …” to let children know “Yes, I know there are other rules for you elsewhere, but in this place, we do this.”

Here are some examples.

Negative: We don’t…Positive: In this place we…
We don’t run.In this place, we walk carefully.
We don’t shout.In this place, we speak quietly.
We don’t carry all of that at the same time.In this place, we carry things one at a time.
We don’t leave our work on the floor.In this place, we return our work to the shelf.
We don’t interrupt.In this place, we wait our turn.
We don’t hit. In this place, we keep our hands to our own bodies.
We don’t get out of our chair at a restaurant.In this place, we stay in our chair.

Montessori Freedom: Setting Limits with Positive Statements (Part 2)

Do you hear the difference? If you were learning the rules of a new place, which language would you rather hear? The child can argue with the statement “We don’t run.” However, she cannot argue with the explanation of “In this place, we walk carefully.” By using positive, exact language you become a firm, gentle, and rational authority who is building a relationship based on trust.

Now, let’s look at some less obvious negative statements. Often, we think we are using positive language but really, we are giving commands and asserting our authority. Dr. Dubovoy uses the following example:

Sit down; it’s time to eat.


We will eat when you are seated.

In the first statement, we are telling the child what to do. There isn’t any choice or freedom to choose: I am the adult, and I make the rules for you to follow, no questions asked. In the second example, the child has the choice of when to be seated. He knows we will wait until he is ready. There is no need for a power struggle because the child now has the freedom to choose.

Let’s try some more examples.

Be quiet; it’s story time.When you are quiet, I will read you a story.
Put your coat on; it’s cold outside.When your coat is on, we will go outside.
Eat your dinner; it’s time to clean up.When you are finished eating, we can clean up.
I’m not leaving until your shoes are on.When your shoes are on, we can go to school.
Brush your teeth; it’s time for bed.When you’ve brushed your teeth, I’ll come tuck you in.

Using language that is positive and respectful but firm guides children to want to behave, without the adult having to constantly watch and wait for them to break the rules. You are setting the tone for a positive outcome. You are clear with your expectations as well as with the outcome of their choice.

There are definite rules in life, and having rules isn’t bad. Rules are actually quite necessary to raise happy, independent, well-adjusted children, who become happy, independent, well-adjusted adults. When we understand what we want in our environment and we are express and model that in a clear and respectful manner, our children are able to make wise choices about their own behavior.

Works Cited
Dubovoy, S. (2017, October 25). Freedom, Obedience, Authority, and Discipline. Online Webinar. San Diego.

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, May 9, 2018.


  1. Hello. Thanks for sharing us such useful information. I just love reading your blogs and see them as good source for me to do Montessori at home.
    I’m facing a problem about setting limit to my child. I do use positive and respectful manner to ask him to keep his work on the shelves after he’s done it, however he rejects it many times. Same problem when he’s asked to go to bed when he’s still playing. Please give me advise on these issues. I’d be grateful for that!

  2. I really enjoy this blog post! I think it's so important to develop positive language with your students! Kids respond so much better when you are explaining to them what they CAN do versus what they CAN'T do because it shows that you trust them to make the right choice! Also, allowing them to have choices while making the outcomes of their choices clear can help them learn how to make positive choices all by themselves. I can't wait to use the "positive" model to make a positive environment in my own class!

  3. I absolutely love this post! I think using positive words creates a much better environment in the classroom because you are explaining to the kids what they CAN do, which shows them that you trust them. Also, allowing them to make a choice, while explaining to them the outcome, helps them learn how to make positive choices by themselves. I can't wait to use this model!

  4. This is a great article and a nice reminder of how important not only our tone of voice is but our actual choice of words. we can often think because we say something in a loving or gentle way that it is positive but paying attention to our words should also be a top priority.


Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!