Limit Setting with Children
If you have children or work with children, you know the importance of setting
appropriate limits. Limits provide children and adolescents with security as well as an
opportunity to learn self-control and responsibility. For many years I have coached
parents in using this limit setting technique. I used it with my own kids when they were
young, and it’s what I use with children in my office. If it is used consistently I can
almost guarantee success. It takes practice and you should be prepared for children to
test you to see if you are serious. But stay consistent and you will see results!
3 Steps A.C.T.
1. Acknowledge the child’s feeling, wishes, and wants. Verbalizing that you
understand the child’s feelings often helps decrease the intensity of the feelings.
For example, “I understand that you want…”
“I hear you feel strongly about…”
“You really want…
2. Communicate the Limit. Give clear specific limits.
For example, “But we are not having candy this close to supper time.”
3. Target an acceptable alternative.
For example, “We are not having candy this close to supper. You may have
an apple if you’d like.”
Patience is key. Stay calm. You may have to go through the sequence 2-3 times (or more
at the beginning) before the child understands that you are not giving in. If after the limit
is set, the child breaks the limit, then the ultimate choice is given. This step must be
carefully stated so the child clearly understands he/she has a choice and that whatever
happens will be the result of his/her choice. For example, “If you choose to throw that
toy again then you choose not to play with it anymore today.” Or “If you choose to hit
your friend again then you choose to have her go home.” No debates or lengthy explanations. At this point, it is important that apologies, tears, tantrums do not undo the choice the child has made.
Good luck. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you. Remember, Be
ACT limit setting technique is from:
Landreth, G (1991). Play therapy: The Art of the Relationship. Bristol, PA: