December 19, 2022


Pro Tips

Pro Tips: Setting Boundaries

Pro Tips provided by Claire Spangenthal, MA/SC, NCSP, BCBA, educational assistant director at Summit Academy Enhanced.

Setting rules and expectations is part of parents’ journey as their child begins to test their boundaries. Establishing rules is critical for families to set their child up for success at home and in the community.

Below are some tips on setting boundaries for children with autism and other developmental disabilities:

1. Set reasonable and achievable expectations.

When setting boundaries or creating rules, it’s important to make them attainable for your child. Take small steps toward achieving the outcome you want. Be realistic with your expectations. If your goal is to have your child practice good behavior while at the store, expect that your child may not meet that goal perfectly the first few times. If you set unrealistic expectations, it may be impossible for a child to achieve and will lead to frustrations for both the child and parent.

Keep in mind that learning expectations can be more challenging for younger children. The things they experience day to day may be the biggest challenge they’ve ever encountered up to that point.

2. Be consistent.

Once you set a rule, don’t go back on it because it will be even more difficult to achieve going forward. Explain the rule to your child and provide reinforcement when they make progress toward following that rule.

For example, if you’re going to the grocery store, tell them how long you’ll be there and if they practice good behavior then they’ll get a candy bar at checkout. If they don’t display good behavior, don’t give in. Explain that they can try again next time. This may upset your child, and it’s okay to console them using an appropriate coping strategy rather than giving in.

3. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

If a strategy doesn’t seem to be working the first few times you try it, don’t give up. It takes time for children to adapt to new rules, which can be challenging for parents. Once you find success with one rule, it will be easier to work on other rules in the future. If you have spent months trying a strategy and it’s not working, consider reaching out to your child’s team to come up with a new plan.

4. Consult your child’s team.

Parents are encouraged to meet with staff to learn how they can practice setting boundaries at home and work through challenges that arise. Collaborating with a team also gives parents the opportunity to ask questions and have an open dialogue with staff who work directly with their child.