• Ishani Shah-Verdia

Freedom with Boundaries (And, how to set boundaries with respect?)

Updated: May 9, 2020





What does freedom mean?

Freedom means an individual can do whatever he/ she want to do with their life as long as the individual is not harming the physical well-being of themselves or anyone else. The same holds true for a child, freedom is the sacred right that every human being possesses from birth. Since, children are more vulnerable to their right of freedom being hijacked by the adults, it is the duty of every parent, educator, facilitator, teacher to protect the sacred right of freedom. Many a adults out of love for their children violate the right of freedom since they are not able to TRUST and RESPECT a child.


This blog is written with utmost love and respect for every adult who wishes to unlearn, for every adult who wishes to understand the importance of freedom (with boundaries).


Why does Sahaj give freedom to children?

We look at every child with love & respect as an independent person who is born with endless possibilities to learn. Freedom to choose, freedom to be one’s own self are the needs of every human being. Hence, in our opinion, freedom can’t be “given” to children since at Sahaj, we as facilitators never look at ourselves as an authority, but, we look at ourselves as facilitators who need to offer a space to children to be themselves; while supporting children in their life journey.


Fears of parents with the idea of freedom

A lot of parents think that freedom is not going to inculcate discipline/ manners/ ethics/ routine in a child’s life. A lot of parents have internalized the thought- to raise disciplined children, one needs to be authoritative. Many adults’s fear when children have the freedom to choose, freedom to be themselves, there is no boundary and children can become "wild". On the contrary, with freedom indeed comes great responsibility.


The fine art of balance of raising responsible adults while upholding the right of freedom of every child that comes to us is what we promise to do at Sahaj. 

In my experience of being a respectful parent for the last 5 years, in my experience of facilitating and being with children from varied backgrounds, I have understood that children feel empowered to receive boundaries. If an adult decides to be a respectful parent or a respectful teacher, “setting boundaries without authority” is an art of communication that a parent, a teacher or a facilitator needs to learn with sincerity.


Some parents say, “We give a lot of freedom to our children, but, within limits”.

Well, that is one way to raise a child. At Sahaj, like mentioned above, freedom is not given to children as a gift, rather, we consider the freedom to choose, the freedom to be one’s own self to be a birthright of every individual, irrespective of age. When we say, “freedom with boundaries, we are essentially talking about establishing a mutually respectful relationship between an adult and a child. An adult respects a child and a child respects the adult. The onus of establishing a mutually respectful adult-child relationship lies with the adult.


However, when a parent talks about giving freedom within limits, parents typically talk about the number of hours the child gets freedom to choose, or the freedom is conditional on pre-determined situations. This is one way to raise children, however, this is not what we mean by the term “freedom with boundaries.”



At Sahaj, we offer freedom “with” boundaries and not “within” boundaries. 


To our critics, we would like to reiterate that with freedom does come great responsibility. At Sahaj, our objective is to raise self-disciplined adults with minimal adult assistance. All our efforts are in this direction. Freedom in no way means that we as adults are escaping from our responsibility and we leave the child-rearing to nature. On the contrary, we choose to be conscious in every second that we are present with children. We choose to respect the child in every situation and support them while facilitating their learning journey.


How to set boundaries?

Once an adult understands that children too are human beings who need to be respected as individuals from birth and not wait to give them respect when they become adults, setting boundaries is similar to how one would set boundaries with any adult in any relationship.

Few real life instances...

1. The first instance is of my daughter trying to threaten me by saying, “If you don’t give me the phone, I will not eat.” This is what many children do, some learn by observing the adults present in their life, some through watching a video and some through peers.

As I sensitively observe my daughter, I realize that she learnt the power of threats from her friends. My response was crystal clear, “This is called a threat. I don’t like to be threatened. So, tell me, “Are you hungry?” Do you want to eat first and then take the phone?” in a person-to-person tone, neither using a special baby tone, nor, a condescending tone. As an adult, neither do I take any misbehavior personally, nor, do I get scared with any words or threats from children.

2. In the second instance, once a child objected to picking up a hacksaw. At Sahaj, sharp tools can’t be left on the ground since some children walk barefoot. Once, when one of our 5 year old child was asked to pick up the hacksaw, the child fought back and said in a loud tone , “Why do I have to do it?”

The authoritative response could be, “ You can’t talk to me in this tone. Or “Don’t back-answer” or because, “I asked you to”.

However, in the past few years, many adults have stopped using a direct authoritative tone. What many adults now use is an indirect authoritative tone, “Because, we like to keep things back in it’s place.” or “ Dear child, isn't it good manners to put it back in it’s place?”

However, at Sahaj, a simple non-authoritative tone(a person-to-person tone) is used, “You were the last one using the hacksaw and so, you need to keep it back to keep our centre safe for everyone. I will see you in the snack room.” The child put the hacksaw back in it’s place. I asked the child, “ Was I being fair?” Without a second thought, the child said, “Yes.”

At Sahaj, we always respect the child in every moment while sharing our authentic feelings.

3. In the third instance, at the beginning of the session at Sahaj, our 3 year old, our 2 year old and our 4 year old would often engage in snatching. After a few days, I asked a simple question to all of them, “Do you like it when someone asks for a toy or do you like it when someone snatches a toy from your hand?” All of the three children said, “We like it when someone asks for a toy.”

I asked, So, can we make a rule, “No snatching?” All the children “vote” in favour. Does the new rule feel fair? The reply comes, “Yes”.

And, hence a new rule is co-created upholding the principles of democracy. If someone snatches, children will remind us of the new rule.

Hence, with adult support (as opposed to teaching), children take a journey towards self-regulating their emotions and actions.

An authoritative tone would say, “ Snatching is not good”.

An adult who feels the need to be an authoritative adult in the disguise of being respectful would say, “We like to share. Give the toy to your friend. Sharing is caring.” This according to us is using manipulative language and tone. It is telling the child what to do. We understand that the intention of the parent is not to manipulate the child, it is perhaps a different perspective that most parents and teachers work with. The intention of this blog is to support parents and teachers who wish to take a more conscious journey.

In our experience, offering freedom and respecting children reduces the probability for a tantrum and meltdowns by 90 percent.

At a life skills workshop, I once had a 4 year old child tell me in Hindi, “You listen to us” what he really meant is, “I feel respected.” This child came from a conventional family where he was always told what to do, how to do, how to behave and what to say?

When he felt respected as an individual for the very first time in his 4 years of existence, the child shared the feeling on the 5th day of the workshop.

What do you feel while reading the above real life instances? Do you think children can be“spoiled” by being respected, by being acknowledged as independent human beings?

What do our critics say?

Our critics love to share with us that when the child was not interested in keeping the hacksaw back, why was his choice not respected? Or, so, the child wanted to threaten you, so, doesn’t the child have the freedom to be herself? Why are you contradicting yourself?

And, What do we tell our critics?

To our critics, we would like to reiterate that with freedom does come great responsibility. At Sahaj, our objective is to raise self-disciplined adults with minimal adult assistance. All our efforts are in this direction. Freedom in no way means that we as adults are escaping from our responsibility and we leave the child-rearing to nature. On the contrary, we choose to be conscious in every second that we are present with children. We choose to respect the child in every situation and support them while facilitating their learning journey.

How to resolve conflicts in an environment of freedom?

There is no conflict between human beings that can’t be resolved with a combination of dialogue, inquiring with open ended questions and a sprinkle of humuor. The thumb rule is not to convince the other, but, to deeply listen (listen with compassion and no judgments) and come to a conclusion through a dialogue based on mutual respect. The same holds true for a relationship between an adult and a child.

Is respect really important in a child's life?

Respect is so important because, without it, children can't value themselves or others. Children who have self-respect treat themselves well. They're less likely to do harmful things, they make good choices, and they tend to act in ways that are in their own best interests.

Respect for an individual is a two way process

If an adult is willing to transform and unlearn, an adult would understand that respecting a child is a two way process.

We as adults have a right to say, “I am not comfortable to be threatened” or “This is my working area, please give me the space”

The child also has a right to say, “I don't like being forced” or “I need some time alone”. Just the way, we expect our children to respect our choices, we need to first model and be the adult who respects a child’s choices. Respect for a child comes from the deep corners of one’s heart, for most of us, we need to take an unconditioning journey to be able to respect a child in the truest sense of the world.

Freedom does not mean license. This is very important principle, emphasized by A.S.Neill, is that respect for the individual must be mutual. A teacher does not use force against a child, nor has a child the right to use force against a teacher. A child may not intrude upon an adult just because he is a child, nor may a child use pressure in the many ways in which a child can.

How to draw boundaries?

Many parents contemplate, "how to offer freedom? Where to draw boundaries? Which situations warrant the need to draw boundaries? How to draw boundaries without being authoritative?"

It is an art of fine balancing that comes with a little bit of practice and lots of consciousness. But, once an adult walks out of the comfort zone and learns to strike that fine balance, there is empowerment and liberty for the adult on the other side of the bridge.

Is being a respectful parent counter-intuitive?

In our society, it might be counter-intuitive to respect children, especially to respect infants and toddlers.

However, once an adult makes a commitment to the child to treat the child with respect, there are numerous books, blogs, podcasts available.


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