Southeast New York Part 2 - Limit Setting

Somewhat of an eventful time this past week in New York state (or not) depending on your point of view. The weather made for some difficult driving and we even had to delay our training by a day. My client contact called me at four in the morning to tell me that the school district had cancelled classes and our training for the day due to inclement weather. An ice storm had moved in and transportation was dangerous. Weather disrupting your schedule should be added to that list of things that are certain in life (i.e., death and taxes).


I conducted a two-day Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training for a school district in New York State. We had eleven participants ranging in professions from teachers to principals to transportation directors. Most of the teachers taught special education and most had children with ASD in their classes. The participants asked many good questions and couldn’t help revealing some of their frustrations when talking about lack of success with certain intervention methods like setting limits. Here is an overview of CPI’s view, as well as my own interpretation, on limit setting.


Limit setting can be used as an intervention technique regardless of the special needs, disabilities, conditions or communication styles of the student. It is up to us, as the educators, to choose the communication style that is most effective for the particular student.


Please keep in mind two very important points about limit setting; First and foremost, setting a limit is the recognition that you as a teacher cannot force the student, or anyone else for that matter, to act appropriately. So think of it as a self-management technique in addition to managing the behavior of others. If you are setting limits and the student still refuses to respond or comply, but you are not getting upset about it and adding to the crisis with your own frustrations, you are doing what CPI advocates for.


Secondly, remember that the goal of limit setting is to deescalate crisis behavior and/or keep it from escalating any further. The goal is not to get the student to make what we would consider an appropriate choice. That is a nice residual benefit of limit setting, but not the goal. So, again, if you are setting limits and not getting a reply, but the behavior is not escalating, you are having some success. The absence of further escalation can be viewed as progress in this example. Setting limits is part of a Directive approach. Sometimes the best way to “take control of a potentially escalating situation” is to simply back off a little and allow the student some time to process the choices he or she has been given as well as to think of the consequences that have been stated by the educator. It can be counterproductive to view our attempts as failures if the student continues with his noncompliant behavior or chooses the negative choice and consequence. As long as you have stated the choices and consequences in a clear and simple, reasonable and enforceable manner, the choices and consequences are his to own.

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