Play is the "work" of Children
Remember being Luke Skywalker in an epic battle against his father or being lost in your own imagination playing outside on long summer days with your favorite toys?
Author - Bernadene Weskin
Children use their imagination and natural tendency to play to explore and understand the world around them. The crashing of two objects can be to test cause and effect; learning that this movement with these objects will make this sound. It can also be a way to gain control and insight over their world. A sense of knowing that they can control what happens and when it will happen.
Testing the Limits
Childhood problems have a way of snowballing into larger problems if not addressed early. Play Therapy uses the natural instinct of children to explore their world through play to help children explore and manage presenting issues.
A child who is loud and destructive is given the opportunity to explore this in the safety of the play therapy room. Here, they can freely test their limits and learn the skills to gain control over their impulses. An anxious child is guided in exploring their world and developing strategies to overcome their limitations. A traumatized child is given space to explore their experience and understand their own strengths.
This constant repetition leads to mounting frustration and an unnecessary power struggle with your child. Our children need us to set limits so that they can feel safe. Testing those limits is an important developmental step toward gaining confidence in themselves and their world.
This power struggle is rarely about the desired object or activity, but often a struggle for control. Your child has a growing need to feel independent and in control of their world. This sense of control assists them to build their self-esteem. So how can we balance setting the limit while helping our children mature into healthy, respectful and law-abiding citizens. I suggest using the “A-C-T Limit Setting” technique developed by Dr. Garry Landreth (renowned Play Therapist).
Acknowledge the Feeling
Communicate the Limit
Target the Alternative
So, if little Sarah is demanding candy at the store, you could say:
“You are hungry (the feeling), but we are not buying any candy today (the limit), You CAN have an apple or a pear (the alternative).”
Or little Tommy is jumping on the sofa:
“You have a lot of energy (the feeling), but we do not jump on the sofa (the limit), You CAN jump on the mat or this pillow (the alternative).”
Already you can see that the child is being given the opportunity to control the outcome. They have the choice to continue with the behavior or choose your alternative. So why would they choose the alternative?
This is when it is important to do the 3 steps in order. Acknowledging your child’s feeling softens the blow of the limit. They will feel heard and understood. This provides security and protects their self-esteem as it validates that what they are feeling is right.
Remember that limits help a child feel safe. Limits should be set with a calm and firm tone. “We do not jump on the couch” should be simply stated like “One plus One equals Two”. It is a fact in your home. This limit should be consistent so that your child knows that every time they do the behavior there will be no exceptions. An exception this time on the rule can mean future limits may be flexible.
And finally, feeling the security of being heard and the safety of the limit, children can choose the behavior that they will most likely be rewarded for… your alternatives!
Limit setting does not need to be a battle every time
There will be times when you need to quickly set the limit. If little Marcus is about to run out into traffic you don’t have time to acknowledge his feelings. Reducing the amount of times you start with the limit will foster a sense of cooperation in your relationship with your child.
Help! My child is still not listening.
If this is a new approach in your home, then you and your child may take some time getting used to it. You might need to think up alternatives beforehand as they can be difficult to come up with on the spot. Practice the technique during less demanding situations until you feel comfortable. When setting the limits:
Author - Bernadene Weskin