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Saturday, December 21, 2013

4 Steps to Setting Limits

Last time I wrote about how to handle tantrums when there is a discernible pattern to the occurrence of upset feelings and behaviors. Today, we will look at what to do when there seems to be no pattern to the behavior.

If there is no pattern, it’s possible that your child is going through a developmental stage of creating independence and separation. Typically referred to as the “terrible twos,” it is very common for children who are much older to also struggle against limits. Before you give up, know that there is hope!  Below I outline an approach that will help your child know what to expect and will help you reduce your frustration. 

Four-step Approach:

  1. Clearly and concisely state the limit: Provide direction with the fewest amount of words possible. When a child hears, “Could you please turn off the TV because it’s just about time to go and I really think you’ve watched enough today,” they have to work to filter out what you’re asking. “I need you to turn off the TV,” allows your child to easily register what you’re requesting. 
  2. Acknowledge the feeling your child exhibits and hold that emotion: Above all, children want to be heard. If you can recognize and name the emotion, your child will have the feeling that you understand them and you’ll have a connection that makes the limit more powerful. “Timmy, I see that you’re very angry and you really wanted to keep watching TV.” After such an acknowledgement, it can be helpful to allow a silence in which your child can process and work through the feeling.
  3. Re-state the limit and explain what the consequence will be if your child does not follow through: “It’s time to turn off the TV. If I need to ask you again, I will turn it off and you’ll have 15 min. less time tomorrow.” This will give your child the opportunity to consider the request and the alternative to following the request. Typically kids need that extra warning and time to process, disengage from their activity, and comply with the request.
  4. Re-state the limit and follow through with a consequence: This is very important! Follow through is everything. It tells the child you mean what you say and will help him or her remember that consequences will result the next time. “I’ve asked you to turn off the TV. Now I will turn it off and you will lose your time for tomorrow.” No other discussion is needed.
See if this method helps shorten the length and number of the tantrums. I’ve seen it work with many families and find that the more consistently it is employed, the better the results. Consistency is key!

Emily Herber is a child and family therapist at the Center for Psychological Services.

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