The wonderful thing about limits is that they can be set both in and out of the playroom. I almost always teach parents to set limits, or rules or guidelines for behavior, when they are interacting with their children. Because the child is used to limit setting with the therapist, it can be an easy transition for parents to use limit setting as well. I usually sell the parents by saying that limit setting has been successful for me when I have worked with their child.
Similarly to setting limits in the playroom, the parent defines the specific limit, the feeling that the child is experiencing behind the limit, and states and enforces the consequences if the limits are broken.
I explain to parents that limits help children learn that what happens to them is a consequence of their behavior. Children learn to take responsibility of their actions when there is adequate limit setting and follow through with consequences. I then teach parents how to set limits just like I do when working with their child.
1. Determine if the limit is necessary
Limits are typically set if there are concerns about the safety of the child, the safety of others, the safety of property, and overall has to be enforceable. Some examples of limits that can be set include:
- Throwing objects at mirrors, windows, computers, or other electronics
- Breaking toys
- Hurting others or themselves
2. State the limit
I encourage the parent to be clear and authoritative when setting the limit with their child. Instruct the parent to catch their child’s attention by saying their name. Then, have the parent reflect their desired action and state the limit. Finally, have the parent redirect the child by giving them an alternative to the behavior. All together, the statement of a limit would sound like this:
“Johnny, one thing that we can’t do is throw the toy at the window. I know you are really mad. Instead, you can throw this ball on the ground.”
If the child asks why the limit has to be set, you can give a simple explanation.
“You really want to know why we can’t throw the toy at the window. Part of my job is to keep you safe. Throwing the toy at the window is unsafe and could break the window.”
There are many instances in which the child may break the previously stated limit a second time. I always encourage parents at this point to not be discouraged. Instruct the parent to remind the child of the first warning, re-state the limit, and inform the child about what will happen if they break the limit a third time.
“Johnny remember what I said about throwing the toy at the window. You are very angry right now. Remember you can throw the ball on the ground instead. If you throw the toy at the window, we will be done with the toy for today.”
4. Enforcement of consequences
If the child breaks the limit for the third time, it is vital that the parent follows through with the consequences. This not only means that the parent means business but that they genuinely care about the safety of the child. To do this, have the parent restate the rule and enforce the consequences. For the parent to be taken seriously by their child, encourage them to use a firm but pleasant tone.
“Johnny you threw the toy at the window again, so now I have to take the toy away. I can see you are upset. You will be able to play with the toy the next time we meet.”
Setting limits this way communicates to the child that they are responsible for what happens. When the child makes the choice to break a limit after being previously warned, the child knows what the results will be. After children learn that their parent or caregiver follows through with consequences and that they mean what they say, the amount of limits needing to be set will decrease.
When working collaboratively with parents, I practice setting limits with them multiple times in order to ensure that they understand the process. I additionally provide them with my Limit Setting Brochure, which I am providing to you FOR FREE if you click below.
Until next time, Play On!