While I was a trainee enrolled in the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) Program, the topic of limit setting arose. Dr. Gutstein, Founder of RDI, said “you may be the parent of a special needs child, but you don’t want to be the parent of a spoiled brat too”. This really resonated with me! It reaffirmed my belief that while I might have a child with special needs, he still required the loving consistent limits set by me and his dad in order to understand what was okay and not okay. I had been competently implementing the program “1,2,3 Magic” with my oldest child since he was 3 years old.
Upon RDI certification, I began to work with families affected by Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. During a consultation with one family I said “Okay, let’s talk about limit setting”. The parents looked at me like I had just spoken an unknown foreign language to them. They responded with “we have a child with Autism”. Needless to say a healthy conversation ensued about the benefits and necessity of limit setting with all kids.
I think it is extremely helpful for families to develop a positive mindset about limit setting. It is not about punishment for bad behavior, it’s about helping kids learn how to grow up to become responsible, respectful, caring adults. With the right mindset, setting limits are loving and kind. Children benefit immensely when that trusted someone, typically a parent, provides them with boundaries and security around appropriate versus inappropriate behavior.
Last winter I visited my brother after a recent move to a new state. His son was really acting out in a way I had never witnessed before. I made a few suggestions regarding limit setting and some activity schedules to help provide my nephew with more boundaries, security and understanding about his daily life. When I visited them again about 6 months later he was a new child. My brother said that the suggestions I shared had made a world of difference.
In my work with parents, they learn that limit setting helps kids learn how to emotionally regulate themselves when they feel out of control, providing a secure and safe landing spot when they have come undone. Parents know that in order to help their child learn self-regulation they use themselves and their relationship to develop co-regulation. They know that they have to remain physically and emotional calm in order to balance their child’s emotional state. Parents learn how important developmental readiness is for positive outcomes for their kids.
Parents learn that it is a guided process of helping their kids “do better once they know better”. When guiding parents to consistently and confidently set limits, we explore their own upbringing and beliefs along with their hopes and dreams for the kid’s future. Where do they want their kids to be in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years?
Considering children’s individual strengths and weaknesses are also beneficial to the process. And finally, where are the parents in their own capabilities – starting with goals that are manageable for them is also essential. Breaking it all down into manageable developmentally appropriate steps is critical to constructing plans that work.
Much can be said about limit setting. I personally feel that it is important to find an approach that works for you and fits in with our belief systems.
If you would like to explore how to confidently and systematically help your child learn greater self-awareness and regulation then stays tuned for more tips in future newsletters or contact me personally to discuss your child’s challenges with a no obligation free consultation. I successfully work with family’s long distance using skype and other modes of technology.