How Setting Limits Effectively Can Help Your Child Engage Better With You

Most parents (and professionals) assume setting limits is for undesirable behaviors only.


I believe it runs far deeper than that.


We do need to set limits to provide stability in a child’s life. We need to let them know what is allowed and what’s not allowed.
This definitely leads to lessening of behavior issues. Children know what to expect and as a result of this, they’re able to regulate themselves.


4 major points are important to keep in mind while setting limits:


Clarity: It’s important for us to be clear about what we expect from our children.


Have you tried saying, ‘No, for now we’re playing this game.’
Compared to trying to explain to a child and in the bargain, losing clarity?


Keep it straight and simple. Say what you mean.


It can be difficult to say ‘no’ directly.
I suggest we all practice it.


Consistency: It’s important for both parents to be consistent with the child.
I remember how my daughter, Tanya, as a teenager played this out with my husband and me.
If she came to me and asked if she could go out with friends that night, I might have said ‘no’.
But she quickly learned that my husband was much more lenient.
He would say ‘what time?’ or ‘how long will you be away.’


Eventually she got her way.
But we learned our lesson. We decided to not respond till both of us had talked.


Family members need to be consistent. If grandparents are involved in the picture, it could be even more difficult.


Get everyone on the same page.


Contrast: Imagine your child acting up.
I know, it’s not easy to take.
But now imagine yourself being the ‘calm in the storm.’


If you’re in a good space, when your child is in a frenzy, you will be able to help your child better.


A mother with her 4 year old child had come to see me a couple of years ago.
One of our teachers was with the little one, while the mother spoke with me.
Suddenly, we heard the child screaming.
We rushed out of the room. It wasn’t anything major. The teacher had said ‘no’ to him when he got close to the hotplate.
The child took a few minutes to calm down. But the mother didn’t calm down.
She could not complete the meeting with me.


As parents, we get enmeshed with our children. It’s natural.
But our children would do better, if we stayed calm.


Follow through: While one part of the maxim says, ‘say what you mean’, the other reads, ‘mean what you say.’


If we’ve said something, we need to follow through.


For example: If you say to your child, ‘we’ll go to the market after you finish your homework’, then make sure you follow through.


This will build a bond of trust between you and your child.
And that’s priceless.


Trust lays the foundation for our emotional connection to develop.


This diagram will help you keep in mind the 4 points we discussed.




These 4 tenets of setting limits are your foundation to allaying behavior issues.


Setting limits is also useful for your child to focus and engage with you so that you can push them to the edge of learning.
To tap their potential, you, the parent must be able to set limits to effectively move them from avoidance to engagement.


Here is how you can achieve this.


1. Frame activities appropriately


Dr Rachelle Sheely, Co Founder of RDI Connect often says, ‘let the environment do the prompting.


What does she mean by that?


Take a look at these pictures


Untitled.png 1


They’re both about shelling peas.
But which of the pictures makes it absolutely clear to the child about how to go about it?

(You may have to zoom in)


For me, picture 2 wins hands down.
The clear set up framed well with black mats with each child being provided with everything they need, makes it a sure shot winner.


By looking at this, each child will ‘know’ what they need to do.
And guess what? The teacher’s instructions will go down by atleast 60%.


It’s a win – win situation for students and teacher.


So the next time, you set up an activity with your child, good framing will help you immensely.

When you frame in such a way that the child is clear, you will not have to say much.

Keep this in mind as you set up activities for your child.


2. Redirect and… Wait


I saw a wonderful video of a father redirecting his son.
Instead of throwing the ball back at his dad, the child preferred to turn around shoot baskets.

The father gently reminded his son to throw the ball back. He was not agitated, he waited till the child got back and continued to play a ball game with his son.
I was struck by the clear redirection.


Stay calm and re direct your child.


Remember the 45 second rule? It works.


3. Say ‘no’ without feeling guilty


This ties in with the point explained above about clarity.


Saying ‘no’ makes it unambiguous for your child.


In another assessment, I saw a child saying ‘no’ to his mother about reading to him.


He said, ‘No, let papa read to me- he always does.’

The mother and father complied immediately.


Do you see how it was an opportunity for the mother to build up engagement with the child?


Could the mother have said, ‘No, I want to read to you right now, papa will read to you tonight?’

She most certainly could have. Often times, we’re afraid of rocking the boat.


We need to work on our own fears.




Unfortunately, we’re not given a parenting manual when our children are born.
I struggled with saying ‘no’ too.

Mohit is my firstborn and I was totally enmeshed with him.


After learning to say no to him, things got so much better.
Keep in mind: your expression should match your firmness.
It won’t work with your child if you smile and say ‘no.’


4. Get used to ‘you’re a bad mom’


This happens often when children are growing up.
It hurts. You feel you’ve tried your best and here is your child not accepting you.


Don’t take it personally when your child does this with you.


Here’s a simple reminder for you:




5. Be calm


To be an effective parent, work on yourself first.


What is important for you?
Most of us, as mothers, put the needs of the family before ours.


I’m here to tell you to take care of yourself first.
What do you enjoy doing?
Reading, singing, cooking?


Putting yourself in a good mind state, will help your family immensely.




Keep these 5 tenets in mind- to move from avoidance to engagement


1.Frame activities appropriately

2.Redirect and… Wait

3. Say ‘no’ without feeling guilty

4. Get used to ‘you’re a bad mom.’

5. Be Calm



Currently, your child may try to avoid all tasks or not want to do anything.
Setting effective limits will reap you huge benefits.


I end this article with a powerful quote from Jenny McCarthy.




Hang in there! Stay safe.


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Kamini Lakhani

Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 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.


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