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Setting Limits

The Art of Setting Limits

A Guide for Parents

Crisis Prevention Institute, Inc.



Here is a five-step approach to limit setting that will increase your effectiveness in using this technique.


1.  Explain which behavior is inappropriate.


Saying “Stop that” may not be enough.  Your child many not know if you are objecting to how loudly he/she is talking, or objecting to the language that he/she is using.  Be specific.


2.  Explain why the behavior is inappropriate.


Again, don’t assume your child knows why his/her behavior is not acceptable.  Is he/she disturbing others?  Being disrespectful?  Not doing a task that you asked him/her to do?


3.  Give reasonable choices with consequences.


Instead of issuing an ultimatum (“Do this or else”), tell your child what his/her choices are, and what the consequences of those choices will be.


Ultimatums often lead to power struggles because your child does not want to be “forced” to do something.  By providing choices with consequences, you are admitting that you can not force his/her decision, but you can determine what the consequences for his/her choices will be.


Consequences that logically follow from your child’s actions usually work best as a teaching tool.  For example, let’s say that in an angry moment, your child chooses to break something.  A logical consequence would be that your child has to pay for the item out of hi/her allowance.  Grounding him/her would not be as logical of a consequence.


4.      Allow time.


Generally, it’s best to allow your child a few moments to make a decision.  Remember that if he/she is upset, he/she may not be thinking clearly.  It may take longer for him/her to think through what you’ve said.


5.  Be prepared to enforce your consequences, even when it’s inconvenient.


Limit setting is meaningless if you don’t consistently enforce the consequences you’ve set.  For that reason, it’s important to set consequences that are reasonable and enforceable.


Before you set a consequence such as taking away television privileges for a month, think about how willing you will be to enforce that consequence.  Don’t back yourself in a corner.


Limits are a powerful tool for teaching children appropriate behavior.  Their purpose is not to show whose boss, but to give children respect, guidance, and a feeling of security.