How to Set Limits

Setting limits is one of the most powerful tools that professionals have to promote positive behavior change for their clients, students, residents, and patients. Knowing there are limits on their behavior helps the individuals in your care feel safe. It also helps them learn to make appropriate choices.

When you’re setting limits, it’s important to keep three things in mind:

Setting a limit is not the same as issuing an ultimatum.
Limits are not threats. (“If you don’t attend group, your weekend privileges will be suspended.”) Limits offer choices with consequences. (“If you attend group and follow the other steps in your plan, you’ll be able to attend all of the special activities this weekend. If you don’t attend group, then you’ll have to stay behind. It’s your decision.”)

The purpose of limits is to teach, not to punish.
Through limits, people begin to understand that their actions, positive or negative, result in predictable consequences. By giving such choices and consequences, you can provide a structure for good decision making.

Setting limits is more about listening than talking.
Taking the time to really listen to those in your care will help you better understand their thoughts and feelings. By listening, you will learn more about what’s important to them, and that will help you set more meaningful limits.

More resources on limit setting

How to Set Limits
Grab this free guide for preventive, verbal, and nonverbal ways to set limits. You’ll also learn CPI’s 5-Step Approach to Setting Limits.

How to Avoid Power Struggles
Do you ever get pulled into power struggles? Tune in to this presentation and learn how to change a situation from difficult and negative to positive and productive.
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About the Author

“Every individual on this earth deserves to be treated with compassion, understanding, and the right to keep their dignity intact. This can be difficult to honor at times when someone loses control of their behavior, but that’s where Rational Detachment and not taking it personally really kicks in. What has helped me be able to do this well goes back to the first day I was introduced to Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training. I was a participant before becoming a Certified Instructor (and before working for CPI), and over the years I have had so many opportunities to use what I learned way back then. Today, I live the skills automatically. It’s an honor to have been given those skills to live the philosophy of treating others the way I want to be treated.”

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