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Therapeutic Limit Setting

We use therapeutic limit setting in session with children in place of saying 'no'. Instead of saying things like:

'no, don't touch that'

'no, you can't throw that'

'no, I don't like sand in my hair'

You get the idea! We don't like to say 'no' in session as 'no' doesn't have any therapeutic value and does not create a safe space for children to expand their sense of self.

So, instead we use the acronym ACT...

Girl Playing Outside
ACT explained...

A- Acknowledge the child’s feeling or intent

We can accept the feeling, even if we don’t accept the behaviour.

C- Communicate the limit

This is a simple, calm but firm statement.

T- Target alternatives

Let your child know what is acceptable and find a way to meet their need safely.


Example in session:

A - You want to throw the shark

C - But the shark is not for throwing

T  - You can choose to throw the ball or the puppet

Example at home:

A - You're so angry

C - But I am not for hitting

T  - You can choose to hit the couch like this (demonstrate) or stamp your feet like this (demonstrate)



Key notes on this skill

You, as a parent or practitioner need to be calm and in control of your own emotions. This skill is not going to work if you're yelling, crying or fuming. It may also take 2-3 repeats of the same ACT to get the message across to your child and even more than that if it's the first time you've tried these skills. Don't give up using the skill if it doesn't work the first time - be consistent and intentional.

Make sure your alternative options are both acceptable and still meet the child's need - telling a child 'you can go to bed or get a smack' is neither!

We use it so very successfully in play therapy sessions, we find that when we tell children what they can do instead of what they can't do they are much more likely to choose a safer and more acceptable alternative.


There are follow on phrases and things we use if ACT isn't successful, we will share more next month! Give ACT a go and let us know your thoughts:

Thank you to our favourite author Garry Landreth 'The Art of The Relationship'

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