Limit Setting

Jones (2007) suggests that limit setting is a way of saying "no" to unacceptable behavior in a calm but serious fashion.  It does not include criticism, threats, punishments, or anything else that will send the relationship on a negative turn (Jones, 2007).  Limit setting is like Praise, Prompt, and Leave in that it includes a series of steps that are used to deal with a problem.


The Elements of Limit Setting

When a student is misbehaving and not responding to low-profile responses, teachers can implement the limit setting process by implementing the following steps.  Imagine that you are the teacher assisting a student, Evelyn, when Johnny, who is across the room and in the green zone, begins to talk to his neighbor.

1. Eyes up to target - Although you are bent over helping Evelyn, stop for a long moment         and make eye contact with Johnny (a low-profile response).
2. Excuse yourself from the student - Johnny has not ceased talking, therefore, excuse             yourself from Evelyn by simply saying, "Excuse me, Evelyn."  You are modeling polite                 behavior to your students.
3. Breathe - Breathe to relax.
4. Stand and turn - Ever so slowly, stand up and begin a six-second turn in which you end up      facing (with feet pointed towards) the student.  Begin by slowly lifting your torso upwards,     turning your head, then shoulders, then hips, and lastly, your feet.  Make sure you body         language and posture indicate to the student that you are serious.  The most important             thing  about limit setting is ceasing instruction in order to deal with inappropriate                  behavior.  Make sure students know you will not instruct and deal with behavior at the             same time.
5. Breathe - Breathe to relax.  Keep eye contact with Johnny.
6. Say student's name - A neither sweet nor rude, "Johnny."
7. Breathe - Breathe to relax. Keep eye contact with Johnny.
8. Move in - Slowly walk towards the student, continuing to make sure that your body                 language and posture indicate that you are serious.  Stop when your thighs are about one     inch from the Johnny's desk.
9. Breathe - Breathe to relax.  Maintain eye contact with Johnny.
10. Visual prompt - Another low-profile response; give Johnny another opportunity to                 demonstrate self-control by giving a visual prompt.  This can be as easy as pointing to             Johnny's math worksheet on his desk and tapping it a few times.
11. Breathe - Breathe to relax.  By now, Johnny should be getting the hint.  He should pick up     his pencil and begin working on math.
12. Thank the student - Again, model politeness to your class.  This is as simple as saying,     "Thank you Johnny."
13. Breathe - Breathe to relax.  Keep watching Johnny.
14. Move out - As slowly as you approached Johnny, make your way back to Evelyn.
15. Stand and turn - End up behind Evelyn's desk, but make sure your body language and         stature are still communicating seriousness and directed at Johnny.  You want to make sure     he did not stop working just because you left, and you want Johnny to know that you are         still watching him and will go back to his desk if needed.
16. Breathe - Breathe to relax.  Keep watching Johnny.
17. Back to instruction - Resume helping Evelyn.  Discipline has ceased so you may now return to instruction.

Proverbs 15:1 "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
You'll notice that limit setting is more about body language and breathing than actual words.  In fact, the only words said are student names and words of politeness.  The Bible says that a soft answer turns away wrath, while a harsh word stirs up anger.  Many teachers try to "talk" their students into changing their behavior, only to discover power struggles and ineffectiveness.  Limit setting, however, is like a soft answer.  The student is not threatened or punished, but merely reminded that his or her behavior is unacceptable.  In order to keep with the principles of discipline and responding to appropriate behavior, I will utilize limit setting in my classroom when low-profile responses seem to be ineffective with a student.