Setting Limits in a Playful Way

Do you have trouble setting limits with your children?

You are not alone.

Every parent that comes into my office has trouble setting limits with their children. Why? Because it's REALLY hard for so many different reasons. Whether it's challenging for a parent to follow through with each limit they set or trying your hardest not to get frustrated when your child is resisting what is being asked of them. It's really challenging and I'm here to help.

There are many different ways and approaches to setting limits. It's best to find which approaches you find most helpful and effective for yourself and your child. One way to set a loving limit is by being VERY playful and silly. What I mean by a loving limit is stating your expectation and empathizing with your child's feelings. Being able to empathize with your child about how upset they are that you have set this limit. Such as,

"I know honey, you really don't want to leave the playground right now, you are having so much fun. I know this is really hard but we have to leave sweetie."

Providing warmth and a listening ear when setting a limit takes time, patience, and practice. I learned a playful limit setting approach through Hand in Hand Parenting called Playlistening.  It's a playful role reversal where the parent usually acts as the less powerful/confident/strong person so the child can feel a sense of control, power, and confidence in the play. I will give you an example of how effective Playlistening can be when you're in a time crunch.

It was a beautiful afternoon at a park where I was supporting children as their social and emotional aide. We had been outside hiking and running around all morning. On our way back to the playground, one child plopped on the grass and laid his head down. I couldn't see his face so I walked up to him to make sure he was okay.  Once I assessed the situation and knew that he was okay, it became clear that he just needed some space away from the larger group of children. Many children need to take space away from a group in order to help regulate (ie. calm their bodies down)  themselves. He was also feeling very tired after a full morning of hiking and playing with other children. After a few minutes of giving him some space, I realized that we really needed to go because park day was over.

We were in a time crunch (all of you parents out there know how hard it can be to set loving limits when you need to get out the door!) and I knew I had to get creative and playful. An idea popped into my head to pretend that he had a battery pack on his back and he was charging his batteries in the sun.

I started off by saying, "Oh no! Your battery is only at 10% thank goodness it's getting all charged up to be able to make it to the playground!"

No response.

I kept going.

"I really hope your battery can charge in time! Oh I am starting to get really nervous!"

(while making playful and nervous noises with him)

"Okay, okay let me check your battery now (I make a few silly beep boop noises and lightly tap his battery pack on his back)...oh wow! It's already up to 20%!"

(Laughter starts and he is taking to me and engaging in the play)

I continued with my comments and checking his battery while getting more and more nervous and excited (out loud) in order to get him ready to run for the playground. I said silly things about his battery until it reached 100% such as... 

"Ohhh my,  I wonder what's going to happen when your battery reaches 100%! I'm feeling kinda scared to see how fast you are going to run!"

Once his battery reached 100% he took off running full speed for awhile laughing hysterically as I ran after him playfully saying how fast he is running that I will never catch up to him and then he plopped down in the grass again. 

We were both laughing and having so much fun that the playful energy helped me to continue playing the battery game with him for another round. If I were starting to feel frustrated, I would've taken some deep breaths and reminded myself that he is starting to feel connected to me in this moment. He is getting closer and closer to our final destination by playing this game. If I would've given up after the first round, then the child may have laid in the grass for who knows how long and we both may have started to feel frustrated. When you or your child start to feel frustrated with limit setting, it's important to remember to take some deep breaths and remain calm as the parent. When you remain calm, you are able to think more clearly. You are able to connect, be playful, and empathize with your child in those moments when they feel frustrated with your limit. 

For this second round of the game, I started checking his battery at a higher percentage. Once his battery reached 100% this time he got up and ran all the way to the playground!

We both felt very connected to each other and we ended the day on a positive and playful note. Playlistening is a great tool to use because it allows you to be connected and playful with your child while setting a loving limit. When children feel connected to you, they are more willing to listen and cooperate. 

There are so many fun ways to be creative when using Playlistening with your children. Allow yourself to be silly and take the less powerful position so your child can take the lead.

Please reach out if you need some support with setting limits. I know how tough it can be to remain calm and connected in those moments of frustration. 

If you'd like to learn more about Hand in Hand Parenting/ Playlistening please visit their website: