Heather C Heather C is a married, mom of three: big sis Lily and identical twins Natalie and Sophia. She has been guest blogging for Mumbling Mommy since February of 2012 and began working as a Social Media Editor in 2014. After nearly a decade in banking, she now works part time at a doctor's office specializing in breastfeeding medicine and spends the rest of her days in her Midwest home as zookeeper/stay-at-home-mom. Heather C is also a runner, hiker, yogi, bike rider and more. She reads when she finds more than a few minutes to herself and she hosts a lot of pajama dance parties in her kitchen. In her spare time, she's the co-leader for her daughter's Girl Scout troop and an active member of the school's Parent-Teacher Committee as well as a certified postpartum doula.

Back in March, our school district put on a free two-week seminar to help parents deal with behavioral issues in children ages 2 to 5. I came away with some very fascinating ideas. I often wonder exactly what the right way to handle bad behavior is in my own house. There are a variety of ways to take this on and I am not here to tell you which ones are right or wrong. I am here to tell you what I learned about using play therapy at home, though.

The older my kids get, the more I realize just how much I want to use natural and attachment parenting techniques on them. I did many of these things early on like practicing skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, room sharing, babywearing and later cloth diapering as well. Naturally speaking, we are very aware of our diets and have cut out processed foods, including ingredients we believe to be harmful like artificial colors and sweeteners. We use amber teething necklaces and make our own soaps.

Anyway, my point is, this parenting style really feels right for me. My husband unfortunately could not attend the seminar, so he’s a bit slower catching on, but I use these play therapy at home techniques almost daily and they’ve prevented numerous tantrums. It is both shocking and completely amazing. If you don’t remember, I have 2 ½-year-old twins and an almost 5-year-old daughter, all girls. If any family is best suited to be guinea pigs, it’s ours. And I am not even kidding you; it works.

Play Therapy At Home


Therapeutic Limit Setting was created by Garry Landreth. It was originally presented as a 10-week field therapy training for professionals. The process is based on child-parent relationship therapy, which tackles behavioral issues caused by trauma in kids. This can be anything from experiencing death of a loved one to abuse to witnessing an arrest or violence. Many cases are less severe and can be things you may not even realize (i.e. behavioral issues from older children when a new sibling is born).

This play therapy at home is known to decrease negative behaviors, increase a trusting relationship between the child and adult, empower children by increasing their responsibilities and self-control, and increase the child’s self-esteem and confidence. Studies show that practicing this form of limit setting and choices for just 30 minutes each week still impacts the child. Limit setting becomes the child’s natural language so much that they will request choices from authority and learn to internalize the process to make their own choices. In his film, Choices, Cookies & Kids, Garry Landreth says, “When we walk down the road five years from now, it will be crystal clear what we need to do right now.”


The process of setting limits is through a series of steps referred to as ACT. Not surprisingly, you can easily do this with adults as well and get equally positive results.

First, A = Acknowledge the FEELING – When you do this, use YOU statements rather than *I.* Use this time to point out both good and bad feelings. Keep this brief, non-confrontational and keep moving through the steps. Examples include:

  • You really like playing outside.
  • You are upset right now.
  • You are so excited!
  • You are frustrated.

Next, C = Communicate the LIMIT – Again, be specific, clear and brief. Do not transition from A to C with “but” or end C with “though.” This will feel unnatural and take some practice. It’s okay to think it in your head, but when children hear those words, they feel the limit is a justification of some sort rather than the rule and they are less likely to respond. A limit is simple:

  • It’s time for school.
  • It’s time to go to bed.
  • We do not hit.
  • We walk on the sidewalk.

Finally, T = Target ALTERNATIVES – Give two choices that are acceptable to you as the caregiver. The choices should seem equal in your mind. One should not be more powerful than the other. When giving your child the alternatives, use the word “choice” or “choose” four times. Children like power. Is this news to any parents out
there? It IS okay to let your child feel powerful. This is something they must learn as they grow up. Example:

  • It’s your choice. You can choose one more minute on the iPad or you can choose two more minutes on the iPad. What is your choice?

Repeat the cycle up to three times. Give children up to a minute each time to think about and make a choice. If children provide a third choice, even if it is an acceptable choice, stick with the first two. You can transition the conversation back to your lead by saying, “You do really want to do number three. That is not a choice right now. You can choose number one or you can choose number two. What is your choice?” If the child does not make a choice, end the session with “You choose for mommy to decide. I choose number two.” It is okay if your child chooses number one at this point as long as they follow through with the choice and it was in your limits.

Rules of Thumb

Garry Landreth also has general rules of thumb for implanting ACT conversations with your child. One is, “Be a thermostat not a thermometer.” As an adult, surround yourself with positive energy rather than negative. Choose the Tiggers over the Eeyores. Love your kids enough to admit your mistakes. Learn to RESPOND rather than to REACT. A thermostat is constant and regulates the temperature. A thermometer fluctuates and moves from hot to cold and back. Be your child’s thermostat. They have to see you as calm to stay calm themselves.

Another rule of thumb is, “Don’t try to change everything at once.” Start by implementing ACT during play time to set limits. Use peaceful examples, things that do not matter in the grand scheme of things. For multiple children, focus on one at a time. Others will naturally mirror the actions.

Finally, and most importantly, “When your child is drowning, don’t try to teach them to swim.” Limit setting does NOT prevent tantrums. In my experience it has absolutely helped, but once your child gets to a tantrum, they need you to be on their level and they need time to process those feelings. They will not hear you and they will not understand their punishments while they are in the middle of a tantrum. This does NOT fix situations while your child is in the middle of a tantrum.

A tantrum is a drowning brain. To understand what a drowning brain is like, think of it like this: Babies are born with brains like dragons. When they are hungry, the dragon wakes up, and they cry. When they have a dirty diaper, the dragon wakes up, and they cry. As a child grows, a wise owl comes to perch on top of the dragon while it is quiet. When the child gets irritated, the dragon wakes up and where does the wise owl go? The brain is not fully formed until age 25. You have to set limits NOW so your child can make decisions before the dragon wakes up. Your child NEEDS the wise owl to stay. The drowning brain is STRESSED. Teach your child when he or she is afloat.

What questions do you have? Are you intrigued about this process of using play therapy at home?

Practice these steps and next month come back for the second half, when I’ll discuss how to take these steps and encourage your children to understand their choices and avoid consequences. Children need to be empowered. Our futures depend on it.

What have you learned about using play therapy at home?

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Category: Family Free Time

Tags: attachment parenting