May 29 / Simcha

Practical Tips for Setting Limits

Children who are allowed to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and who are given whatever they ask for, have great trouble learning how to cope with frustration. When placed in settings (school!) where they are no longer at the center of anyone’s universe, they have difficult adjusting, and will often act out their frustration, anger and disappointment.

Because children are not born knowing intuitively how to deal with these difficult emotions, it is our role as parents to teach them.  One way to do so is through limit-setting.

Many parents mistakenly think that setting limits requires toughness, meanness and rigidity. Parents who are skilled at setting limits, however, learn to be firm, but at the same time kind and compassionate.

Renowned educator, psychologist and author John Sommers-Flanagan offers the following tips for parents having trouble setting firm and compassionate limits..


An effective limit-setting strategy includes the following:

Set a clear limit or clear expectation.
If your child appears upset or resistant, show empathy for your child’s frustration, disappointment, or anger.
Repeat the limit in clear language (you might also have your child repeat the limit or plan back to you).
Give your child a reasonable choice or timeline (this is especially important with strong-willed children; see example below).
Show more empathy by joining in with your child’s unhappiness.
Enforce the limit on time and with a logical consequence.
Stay positive and encouraging.


An example of limit-setting:

Set a clear limit: “Dinner will be ready in five minutes, so it’s time to turn off your computer game.”
Show empathy by using feeling words: “I know it’s hard to stop doing something fun and you’re feeling very upset.”
Repeat the limit: “But you know it’s time to stop playing computer games.”
Give a choice and a timeline: “Either you can stop playing in the next two minutes, or I’ll unplug the computer.”
Show more empathy by joining in with your child’s unhappiness: “I hate it when I have to stop doing something I love.”
Enforce the limit on time and with a logical consequence: (Say what you’ll do and then do what you said: If you said it will be two minutes, wait two minutes and enforce the limit; don’t wait three minutes or one minute)
Stay positive and encouraging: “Even though I had to turn off your computer in the middle of your game tonight, I’m sure you’ll be able to plan for this and turn it off yourself tomorrow.”