ACT Limit Setting for Children

I love the ACT Therapeutic Limit Setting method for children. This is a wonderfully positive and helps children to begin to develop self-discipline. This is what we ultimately want for our children – to be able to regulate their emotions and behavior; in addition, being able to set healthy boundaries for themselves and others. That is what I feel this kind of limit setting model can do for those who use it consistently.  I had an opportunity to present to a group of therapists last week and part of this training was presenting this model to them.  It is simple, but effective.  I find it to be respectful of children and gives parents the needed skills to set healthy limits with their children.

Here are the Basics for the ACT Therapeutic Limit Setting, which were developed by Dr. Garry Landreth, University of North Texas and author of  “The Art of the Relationship” and co-founder of Child Parent Relationship Therapy.

ACT Limit Setting 

  1. Acknowledge the Feeling – Example: “I know you want to eat some cookies right now. You are hungry and you like cookies.
  2. Communicate the Limit – Example: “It is almost time for supper. Cookies are for after supper.
  3. Target the Alternative – Example: “You can have some carrot sticks or you can help me set the napkins on the dinner table.”

This is simple, but effective. Part of making it effective is REALLY listening to your child and reflecting what they are feeling. And then respectfully letting them know the boundary, with a follow-up of “what they can do”. This last part is so important in giving the child something to move toward that is acceptable.

You might ask what do you do when the child will not comply? You can first repeat what you initially said. Some choose to repeat this a couple of times, with a bit a space in between the information giving. If there is still no movement toward what is needed, you can then make the choice for the child or follow-up with a natural consequence. With the child in the above example you might simply put the cookies up high out of reach or ask that they go to another part of the home as they are getting into things that are off-limits. Of course standing by the limit you have set is important as well. This all said in a calm, matter of fact voice is best.

For more information about this method you can go to Dr. Garry Landreth’s book “The Art of the Relationship”.

I highly recommend the following video on the ACT Model of Therapeutic Limit Setting. This video is done by Dr. Theresa Kellam. She is one of the co-authors of the Treatment Manual for Child Parent Relationship Therapy. This video is of her own personal experience with her own child when she first learned this method of limit setting and what happened afterwards with her child as she grew older.     Go to: ACT Limit Setting by drkellam.

I encourage you to try this model of limit setting. I think it is a healthy interaction in helping children to learn to self regulate and in learning how to accept and set boundaries themselves when needed.



Here I am presenting a workshop on Family Play Therapy, in which I cover ACT Therapeutic Limit Setting.


Disclosure: This blog is offered as educational information and is not offered as professional therapeutic services. This is not intended to serve as treatment. For professional help contact a local mental health professional . Strom Individual & Family Therapy is not liable for any action or non action you take in regard to this article.