Why Setting Limits For Your Child Is Equally Important For You
I found it difficult to interact with this 5 year old during an assessment. (RDA)
He wasn’t willing to let his parents leave the room. I saw how the parents hesitated to set a limit.
I couldn’t test my hypotheses with them around, as he would then not interact with me.
I asked them to leave unobtrusively, one by one.
This resulted in a huge tantrum which lasted 13 minutes.
I let it pass. Made sure he was comfortable and slowly got him engaged with me.
Once the initial phase was over, we connected beautifully and I could clearly see his potential.
I see this often with parents.
“He’s trying to communicate. He’s autistic.”
“He cries really loudly when he has a tantrum. I can’t deal with it.”
“It distresses me when he cries like this.”
“I don’t want to be the person saying ‘no’ all the time.”
I understand how difficult it can be to set limits.
I was like you. I couldn’t set limits effectively- but I worked on myself.
You’re out with your child at a restaurant. He orders an item which is unavailable for the day. You inform him gently, wondering how he’s going to take it. In the past he has created a ruckus in a similar situation. You hold your breath.
He’s disappointed, but chooses another item and you enjoy a meal peacefully. After heaving a sigh of relief!
Great scenario, isn’t it?
This is why limit setting is important.
Limits set clear behavioral guidelines. They reduce your child’s anxiety.
Your child will learn to have respect and have consideration for others.
The foundations of respecting boundaries begins here.
You will end up with a self controlled and a regulated child.
I have seen many families where parents set effective limits, but the child still has self regulation issues.
There could be other elements at play here. But that’s a subject for another post.
However, this parent objective from the RDI Community illustrates my point clearly.
Autism doesn’t give him the liberty to break house rules. Everyone has to follow rules and do chores and pull their weight in running the house.
– Sweta Patel
I couldn’t have said this better!
An important point to be emphasized is limit setting is not about forced compliance.
Example- you cannot force somebody to do something.
Pulling, dragging children and adults is hugely disrespectful.
I discourage this totally.
A wonderful option is setting outer limits. This works beautifully for my students.
For example: A child/teenager/adult may be unwilling to join me in an activity.
I don’t insist they do. Instead I set an outer limit.
If we’re cooking and the student is unwilling to join, I place a chair for him/her in the kitchen.
I start cooking and then invite them to join at intervals.
Most times, this works and my students join in without a fuss.
Here’s an example of a little boy who didn’t want to join a stacking activity.
I allowed him to sit on a chair. I was invitational. If he would have got up to leave the room, I would have gently but firmly stopped him and re directed him back to the chair.
Here are some examples of limit setting for you to consider.
1. Preventing a child from leaving a room. But not by coercion or forcing him to perform a certain action.
2. Saying ‘No.’ Or that’s not what we’re doing right now.
Saying it calmly is important.
3. Refusing to respond to arguing/provoking.
4. Removing distractions, or closing off distracting areas.
5. Not listening or responding to screaming.
I do however, offer some water or wipe away the tears if needed.
6. Intervening with self injurious or destructive behaviors.
Remember, the child’s dignity and safety is the most important element.
If a child steps out of the bathroom, inadequately dressed, I would certainly take action. If they are injuring themselves by banging their heads, I would intervene most definitely.
This point is so important that I’m going to say it again.
No pulling, pushing, dragging, screaming or hitting children/adolescents/adults.
When you are able to set limits firmly, you will feel the power and compassion within. There is no need for force.
As parents and educators, we need to:
1. Be Clear
Our body language and communication should be very clear to the child.
This is our responsibility as parents.
2. Slow down and hold the tension
It’s important to give time and space. At the same time hold the tension till the child responds.
For example- if a child flops to the floor, I will reach out to pick him up by holding his hand. I tug just slightly to create a slight tension, but I will not pull him. The responsibility is his to get himself off the floor.
It’s a fine line to keep in mind.
3. Be Consistent
This is perhaps the most difficult to follow through with.
Both parents need to be on the same page, or else results will be hard to come by.
Trust me, you don’t want this happening.
4. Follow through
If you’ve said the child will face a consequence, then follow through.
On the other hand, if you’ve promised something, then follow through with that too.
Trust is the basis of every relationship.
Implement these religiously. Be clear, consistent, create tension and follow through and see the magic.
Setting limits will certainly help your child. But it will enhance your life too.
Setting limits creates harmony in your home and keeps every one safe.
It increases co operation from everybody.
You’ll feel better because you don’t have to think up rules on the go.
You will have a system in place.
You will feel empowered, dear parent.
Your family life will be smoother and happier.
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 20 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.