• Dr Laura Hutchison

Simple Limit Setting

In my work as a child psychologist, and through my experience as a mom, I've learned a lot about the importance of limit setting. It is essential for parents to have a simple system of enforcing limits for their children. This not only ensures for the child's safety, but also the parent's sanity!


A three step sequence of stating the limit, giving a warning, and enforcing the consequence is used in a child-centered play therapy session … and it is also GREAT to use CONSISTENTLY and with FOLLOW THROUGH as parents.  This model, by Rise VanFleet, is wonderful and I use to ALL the time as a therapist and mom.


1.  State the limit – When the child breaks or obviously is about to break one of the playroom limits, the therapist STATES THE LIMIT to the child in a brief, clear, specific manner. The tone of voice should be pleasant, but firm and forceful.

“[Child’s name], you’d like to shoot that dart gun at me. Remember I said I’d let you know if there’s something you may not do? One of the things you may not do her is point or shoot the dart gun at me. But you could shoot it at that puppet.”

If you need to act quickly, simply state, “[Child’s name], one of the things you may not do is … But you could …”

2.  Giving a warning – The second time the exact same behavior occurs in the session, the therapist gives a warning.. To do this, restate the limit and then state what will happen if the child breaks the limit again.

“[Child’s name], remember that I said that you could not point or shoot the dart gun at me? If you point or shoot it at me agin we will have to leave the playroom today (or, not play with the guns anymore today).”

3.  Enforcing the consequence – If the child breaks the same exact limit for the third time that day, the therapist must enforce the consequence. To do this, the limit is restated and then the consequence given in the warning is followed through.

“[Child’s name], remember I said if you pointed or shot the dart gun at me we would have to leave the playroom for today? Since you chose to point it at me again, we have to leave today.”

(If the same behavior is repeated in a subsequent session, the therapist can remind the child of the limit by giving the warning once and then enforcing the consequence on the second offense.)



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