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July 07, 2020

Babies and Limit Setting

Now that Teddy is seriously on the move, he is into everything! He's pulling things off the playroom shelves. He's pulling things out of cabinets, swiping things off of tables, knocking over water glasses, and so much more. As an adult, I could see this behavior as "making a mess" or as valuable exploration. But, either way, there are bound to be times when Teddy gets into something that he shouldn't necessarily use. The cups in our children's kitchen are a great example. He loves to go to the shelf and throw them to the floor. Well, they are glass and can break. So, it's time to set a limit. 

Parenting advice for disciplining babies through limit setting. Here are 4 Montessori steps to consider when setting limits with your baby.

How do we do that with babies? Here's a look at all the ways I set limits with a baby in the order that I recommend trying them. 

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In a Montessori home, the environment should be the BIGGEST and most important limit. Not just for babies but for all children. If there is something in your environment and you don't want your baby to explore it - remove it! We cannot place the burden to leave it alone on a baby, that's unfair. It's their job to explore their environment and learn about the world. The burden is on us as adults to create a prepared environment that is safe for a baby to freely explore. 

But there are things that we sometimes can't remove from the environment - like the cups in my house, the big kids still need access to them. Or, another example are the markers Teddy is playing with in these pictures, the bigger kids need them on their shelves, but Teddy needs to explore. Just because we can't remove something altogether doesn't mean there's nothing we can do to better prepare our environment for our baby's exploration. Somethings to consider include:
  • how we are storing the material - would a different container help keep the baby out of it or safer?
  • the number we are making accessible - do we have too many available? Would fewer make the thing less appealing?  
  • the location on a shelf or within a home - is there a spot a baby can't reach, or a room that they baby doesn't access? 
  • the visibility of an option - can it sit in a drawer or closed shelf? Would adult height be better for now?

Always look to the environment first, try to set those limits naturally and give your baby as much freedom as possible. For our marker situation, I limited the number of markers available (the big kids did not need that many at once) and put them in a less appealing container for Teddy. They are now safely tucked away with the rest of our art supplies. The big kids can reach, Teddy is less interested, and I have less frustration because there are fewer times where I'm putting away 1000 markers that Teddy has thrown around. 


Babies are always watching and absorbing our behavior. One of the best teachers is our own behavior. If you want your baby to stop doing something, to set that limit, and the environment isn't working - look to your own behavior. An example for us, is Teddy and his water glass. Teddy loves drinking water, but is still learning not to throw it down. We can't change the environment (and remove it or make it something safe to throw) so we have to use something else - modeling. 

We use our own behavior to teach a baby what we need to do. In this case SUPER slow exaggerated movements. If we move at regular adult speed or add a lot of language, our baby won't pick it up as easily. Slow down, be deliberate, and repeat often. This is also how we introduce a new material to show how it works and how it should be used. This can be a slow process and take time, so be patient and gentle. 


If changing the environment and modeling don't work for a particular situation, then I recommend limit setting through redirection. This is what we need to do for our cups on the shelf that Teddy so desperately wants to throw. While we also model, we cannot let Teddy throw glass. So, in these instances we redirect his behavior to something more appropriate. "Glasses stay on the shelf. Let's play with your toys." And we move him to his play shelf or kitchen treasure basket. Over time, he will learn that this isn't something to throw and leave them alone. 

Redirection is steering your baby toward a behavior that they can engage in. No judgments, no negativity, just matter of fact redirection. Often for baby, this can be enough to keep them safe and switch their focus to something more productive. I only use this for babies where there is a genuine safety concern. If you find yourself constantly redirecting, then it's time to go and really examine your environment. 

Verbal Cue 

Finally, there is the verbal cue. I think in many traditional parenting models, this ends up being their first thing out of parent's mouths, "no!" But, that's really not effective. The word "no" is completely abstract. What does it mean to a baby? What is it asking a baby to do? Nothing and nothing. It ends up being just something we are saying out of frustration without actually getting to the root cause of the situation. Saying "no, no, no" to our baby all day long really isn't going to decrease our baby's understanding or our own frustration. 

There are times when instead of "no" I will say "stop!" I use this in times where there is some element of physical danger to my child but use it rarely. This works a bit better because stop isn't completely abstract. It directs a child to behavior. But, it's only effective if you aren't overusing it. 

Parenting advice for disciplining babies through limit setting. Here are 4 Montessori steps to consider when setting limits with your baby.

How do you set limits with your baby? Are you looking to the environment first?

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