Establishing Boundaries with Your Tot: Montessori advice from a Montessori- trained teacher, and a mom!

Young girl with black hair, in a white turtleneck, sprinkling sand.

My eleven-month-old daughter and I keep getting into little spats. She loves her toothbrush and every time we've had her brush her teeth she refuses to give up the toothbrush after we're done with it and she cries horribly if I take it from her.

Also, she keeps grabbing at things she wants that I don't want to let her have, like my diet chocolate bar or my glasses or my laptop; and when I keep or take it away from her she gets angry, starts crying, and she even bit me once.

Should I just not let her see me eating my chocolate bars, taking off my glasses, or working on my laptop? Or should I start enforcing these boundaries, because I know she's going to need to learn them eventually, it's just NOW she seems really eager to push the issue!--Aimee

You summed up motherhood in a nutshell: Where and when to draw the line!? I agree you want to draw the line or your baby will grow up to think there is no such word as "No." But you don't want to have constant battles with your very strong-willed infant! It will wear YOU down (Not her!)

Toothbrush. Try a bait and switch. Let her use it during brushing teeth time (twice a day). Then offer her something else, like a brush or a comb or a washcloth. Some parents try food, but this is a slippery slope! That is you offer her a cracker for the toothbrush... I'll leave that one up to you. (I admit I've done it!)

As for other items that she is not allowed to touch, you have to pick and choose your battles, some items you hide from her or else get into a battle with her, others you don't and teach her, "Mommy's turn." (Instead of saying, "No.")

A laptop is expensive and I think is worth the battle! A food item not so much. Besides, you want her to stay interested in what you eat so, at times, she can try it to get her and keep her interested in different kinds of foods.

The real battles begin around age two! So think ahead! She'll be stronger and louder and more apt to not let go of what she wants. In the infant-tot stage (0-24 months) it is easier to get their attention away from what they want (your laptop) and onto something else (an old remote control that is never used!).

As for the Montessori approach, remember we are typically talking about a classroom environment. Almost everything is accessible. But still, there are boundaries (like the phone and the office and certain cabinets).

What I try to get parents to understand is that, in a Montessori world, we focus A LOT on the environment, first. So start there. Take away trouble items, if you can, or keep them up high, but eventually, the battle will come. Just try not to have too many!

When my son was small, we had to keep his glasses on him all the time, and we agreed that was one of our number one battles, things like toothbrushes I let go because for me, wearing his glasses was more important.

So, yes, have a few items out of reach and out of sight (like your laptop); and others be willing to let go of, like the toothbrush; and a battle over chocolate bars (I would! We're talking chocolate!).

And try to get into the habit of saying, "Mommy's turn!" or "No thank you!" Because eventually, she will repeat it back to you and to other children!

You have a strong-willed child! This will be great in the long run! In the short run (until around age three) it will be a challenge, don't be afraid to say, "No" (or "Mommy's turn!") and it's OK to rearrange your home environment to have fewer battles, and to also let a few things go!

Want more Montessori for tots? Read my other tot blog posts here!

~Lisa Nolan

Top photo by Lisa Nolan.

My Free E-books @

Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Homeschooler -

And now for my top posts!

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Simone Davies of The Montessori Notebook

Montessori & the benefits of the geoboard!

A Montessori Teacher's Thoughts on Waldorf Education

Montessori and Composting with Kids

Montessori Sewing Works by Aimee Fagan, author of Sewing in the Montessori Classroom: a practical life curriculum

The Arctic: Montessori Activities

Montessori Homeschool Routine by Marie Mack of Child Led Life

Montessori and Potty Training Boys

Creating a Montessori Infant Home Environment FAQs

Asperger's Syndrome and Montessori: A [Short] Book Review