Charlotte Montessori Blog

You Give an Inch, They Take a Mile

Setting limits and staying strong with the limit can be exhausting. We have the hope that maybe this last reminder will be the one, and the child will follow without us having to take the next step. That next step, to set the limit.

While growing independent children we try to give them as much freedom as possible so that they do not need an adults help. But what we sometimes forget is the phrase, “freedom within limits”. You as the adult, have to know your own limits when helping your child. You have to know what you can handle before it becomes too much to emotionally handle.

I work in the toddler classroom, where routine and limits are something that the children crave. They love to push the limits, but without them in the classroom, they would feel lost, unsure, and not trust how I am going to react to them. I make sure that they know that I am going to follow through with which ever limit I am setting. They may question if I am going to do the same on the 100th time of the action, but staying consistent reminds them of the consequences.

When thinking of the quote “you give them an inch, they take a mile” I think of the times that my class takes nature walks. I am sure people must think we are insane for taking eleven toddlers all lined up on a walk around the block of our beautiful neighborhood. It can have it’s moments where we stop and regroup, but my children know that we have to stay safe when walking near the road. You learn which children need a teachers hand through the entire walk, because they have already shown you that they took the inch and ran the mile. Once they break the limit of not holding their friends hand or not staying in the class line, the child is then explained to that they will now be holding an adults hand and have lost the privilege of holding a classmates hand. When you see that they can handle holding your hand and learn the importance of safety, you can give them the inch back. But remember to be firm with the limit if they break it again.

Another moment that a child may run with the inch given is during rest time. I always try to give the child a chance of laying by themselves without me assisting them to sleep. You can tell when a child needs the limit, because you will remind them “you need to lay still” and then hear yourself having to say it again. If you have to say it again, you have to set the limit before the emotional snowball effect happens and things become worse. The worse being that you are now frustrated and your child being unsure of the appropriate response. Remain calm on the outside, set the limit, and love your child through freedom within limits.


“To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control is to betray the idea of freedom.” Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind