Targeting Alternative Behaviors- Part 3 of 4 in Our Summer Blog Series

Part 1: Acknowledging your Child’s Feelings
Part 2: Communicating Limits

Targeting appropriate behaviors for your child AFTER setting a limit, is arguably the most important aspect of teaching boundaries.

Limits are crucial to life, as we have discussed in this series. Feel confident in setting them by combining the skills learned in Part 1 and 2, with the skill we will discuss in this month’s article.

As a review, in our previous posts, we talked about acknowledging your child’s feelings. Doing so will 1) convey that he/she is understood, 2) develop his/her ability to identify emotions, and 3) immediately reduce tension. When the opportunity for limits arise, start off by identifying and naming how your child is feeling. For example, try saying, “I know you’re ANGRY, BORED, SAD, LONELY, or EXCITED”, leaving them feeling understood and heard, immediately reducing confusion or tension. Following this step, it is necessary to communicate the limit.

Communicating the limit is ideally done without judgment or anger, in a plain and matter-of-fact tone. This is best shared using the outline,”__________ is not for _________.” For example, one might say “the chair is not for standing on” or “your brother is not for hitting”. By using this format, the child is not hearing “you are bad for doing this”, but simply “that is not for that”. Like the first step of this strategy, it also reduces tension.

Now, we will talk about how to redirect your child after telling him/her that their first choice in self-expression was not appropriate. This step is imperative to help he/she find acceptable strategies to deal with boredom, frustration, sadness, etc. To do this, after the limit has been stated, simply list two or three other ideas that would be acceptable for the situation. An example might sound like “John, I know you’re bored, but the ball isn’t for bouncing on the wall, INSTEAD you may bounce it outside or throw a pillow against the wall”. Sometimes, the sillier the suggestion, the less tension there is. Whatever your acceptable solutions are, by sharing them, you are offering your child a bank of acceptable behaviors to choose from in the future.

By combining step 1, step 2, and step 3, this limit setting tool teaches several life skills. The first step helps children identify and label their emotions. The second reminds children that there are limits without shaming or guilting. The third step offers alternative forms of self-expression, within acceptable boundaries.

If you’re worried this 3-part tool will not work 100% of the time, you’re right. There will be days that your alternatives are strong, but your kiddo’s determination is stronger. However, there is a final step to be discussed in our 4th and final blog to this series. This step will give parents the power to deal with even the toughest behaviors, even after this 3-part limit setting strategy was not enough. In the meantime, practice these first 3 steps! They work great with bosses, spouses, and that bossy friend, too!

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