Tired of trying to set limits that don’t work? Well you’re not alone! Seeing your child engage in the same behaviors over and over again and not having an effective means of clearly communicating your need for them to stop can be extremely frustrating.
Sometimes, right as you figure out what to say, you’ll either find that the moment has completely passed or you’ll find yourself saying something totally ridiculous that you’ll later have a really hard time enforcing.
Providing children with consistent limits gives them a sense of predictability which, in turn, provides them with feelings of safety and security. Having a safe and predictable environment, where the child knows what is expected of them, especially when it comes to his/her behaviors, will reduce the likelihood of extreme behaviors or never-ending negotiation tactics.
By using this method of limit setting, children will be able to find acceptable outlets for their behaviors as you provide opportunities for them to engage in greater responsibility and self-control.
3-Step Limit-Setting Method
“A” – Acknowledge the feeling (or desire)
“C” – Communicate the limit
“T” – Target alternatives
By stating out loud how your child’s feeling in the moment, you are showing your child that you understand what he/she is feeling and that his/her feelings are in fact valid and accepted by you (note I said feelings and not behaviors).
When your child hears that you know how he/she is feeling, your connection to your child with being strengthened in the moment, and it will lessen the intensity of his/her feelings.
Example: “Henry, I see that you are getting angry because you want more time on the iPad.”
Communication of the limit (should be brief and to the point.)
The limit should be communicated in as few words as possible and the words you use should be age-appropriate. Presenting the limit in a short and sweet manner will keep your child’s attention and not provide any wiggle room for a counterargument.
Example: “It is now time for dinner. You get 30 minutes of iPad time per day.”
Then, target acceptable alternatives in order to teach your child that he/she is in control of making a different decision (you have already picked the alternatives and are okay with them). This will provide him/her the opportunity to engage in self-direction and practice self-control.
Example: “You can choose to turn off the iPad all by yourself, or you can choose for me to turn it off for you.” Or, “You can choose to put the iPad away, or you can choose for me to put it away for you.”
Note: Children will not always like the alternatives you have chosen for them, and in fact, there are many times when they still won’t want to choose an alternative or won’t want to comply at all. In these situations, you may have to repeat the alternatives a couple of times (no more than 3) or use a countdown system.
Example: “I see that this is a really hard decision for you. I am going to count down from 5 and if you have not made a choice, then you are choosing for me to choose for you. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I see you’ve chosen for me to choose for you.” (Take the iPad and put it away.)
Know that in this moment, your child will likely have a meltdown or get angry. It is extremely important for you to follow through on this limit and, in time, your child will learn to expect that when you set a limit, you stick with it, thereby decreasing their need to negotiate or escalate.
References: Bratton, Sue C., Landreth, Garry L., Kellam, Theresa, & Blackard, Sandra R. (2006). Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) Treatment Manual. New York: Routledge.
I meet children & adolescents where they’re at and work with them to introduce healthier coping skills and strategies.
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Disclaimer: These writings should be considered a matter of personal opinion. They do not reflect professional advice. This medium does not lend itself to the level of detail and intimacy required to provide professional advice. If you are in need of consultation, I highly recommend you seek professional counseling. If at all possible, you should seek a reliable referral from a trusted source.
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