Thursday, August 22, 2013

Parenting::Time Out

Something Ems behavioral therapist has been working with me on is helping Em to express her feelings through speech and not anger. When Ems is angry everyone and everything in her path better watch out. She hits, kicks, bites, throws, screams, attacks the dog and sometimes on really bad days she'll hit herself or bite herself to relieve that anger. Not Good. Yes, it is normal at her age to do some of that, but the severity and quantity that she was doing them is not.  We as parents need to help her to learn different ways to show her emotions.

Let me get this out there in the beginning. We do not use time out. *GASP*  Yes, I said it!  You're thinking "no wonder Ems has behavior problems" aren't you?  Just hear me out.  In the beginning of Ems learning to behave we tried it because well, everyone else seemed to do it. Good parents, bad parents, grandparents, babysitters, aunts, uncles, you name it!  I'm not saying I think people are bad or dumb for doing it because it does seem effective in some kids. Kids who feel guilt or who want to please. My child is not one of those kids.  She either could care less she was put in time out, or she would become so enraged and out of control the rest of the day. Almost as if she was seeking revenge. During potty training she would pee her pants while in time out just to make me angry.  It was common for her to hit her head against the wall or simply just run away and launch onto our dog.  The anger I felt against her and the frustration I could see in her didn't seem to be what "time out" was all about.  I didn't feel good about it. It was ruining our relationship. I knew it wasn't right for Ems, but I didn't know how to teach her that bad behavior was not okay. 

About this time is when I started to reach out to professionals.  Em was exhibiting behavior I had never experienced or had seen in a child before and I needed help.  While waiting to get in to early intervention for her sensory which took a couple months, and the behavioral center which took five months I slowly stopped time outs. I figured for a while maybe I was just not consistent enough with her, but over time I realized something else was going on.  So during that time when Ems acted out I simply would change her focus. If she was getting into something she shouldn't be or hitting or whatever bad behavior, I would try to get her interested in something else. I would try not to point out the bad behavior knowing she would only try harder to do whatever I didn't want her to.  I wasn't perfect at it by any means, but it did seem more effective than time out.  Also for her at a young age it worked better than words would have. 

So flash forward a bit.  When we finally got in to see a behavioral therapist I told her our history with time out and how we had ceased to do it.  Well wouldn't you know...she said they do not suggest time out to not only children with behavioral problems, but children in general!  She explained that in children like Ems you have to have some pretty harsh punishment for her to really care or have something sink in. Which is not good. We don't believe in harsh punishment nor does the BT. In children that are more pleasers it can lead to teenagers or adults that become introverts and hold everything in until it explodes.  In kids like Ems they have frequent huge scary outbursts that can continue on to when they are adults (we've all witnessed those adults).  Needless to say neither types learn how to express they're feelings in a good manner. 

In Parent Fix by Maggie Stevens she says,

                "As a parent the first thing you must do is figure out what is going on underneath all the anger. When children are are angry, it is often because they don't feel loved, understood or heard. Get down on their level. Look them in the eyes and listen intently to what they are saying (or screaming). Sometimes if a child knows that a parent is willing to listen to her point of view, she will calm down. The child needs to know that you are there for her. Hug them, hold them, or just sit with them until they can calm down. Then when they are ready, discuss possible solutions to their problem. They may just need to vent about why something is not fair. Your calmness will show them that there is someone on their side; someone who cares."

It's okay to have feelings. Mad, angry, sad, or whatever else. It's not okay to freak out or repress them. That's what I'm trying to teach Em. So here's what we are working on. 

When Em hits, bites, takes toys, or is angry (insert whatever negative behavior here), the first thing is to get her to calm down.  That can be holding her, letting her flip out on the floor, or taking her away from the situation then letting her flip out. :)  Don't think punishment. Think calm down. You can say things like, "you're having some big feelings." Or "I can see you are very mad."  "It is so sad you don't get a cookie for breakfast." (That happened this morning)  Something along those lines. She's pretty little so we keep it simple. If they are older you could be more specific. In other words you're helping them see you're listening and a supporter. 
Don't be quick to point out what they did wrong or start to lecture. This can make them get worked up again. Give them time to cool down so they are able to think things through.  Even as adults we don't like when people point out what we did wrong in the heat of the moment. We just want someone to listen. 

With Ems being so little we either move on and let it go, or if we feel she can handle some talk about her bad behavior we will say something like "I can see why that made you so mad, I'm so proud you are calm now, next time let's not hit when we're mad."  Then move on. If they are older kids you could give them a chance to talk about it before any criticism. They may not even need it. Chances are they know they shouldn't have acted the way they did. They are more likely to stop the bad behavior permanently if they have someone listening rather than getting shoved in a corner or lectured about it. 

Now, I'm not perfect at this. I'm still learning to keep my cool and to take the time to listen. Most days you'll hear me just strictly telling Ems to stop the bad behavior instead figuring out the cause. I'm a work in progress. By writing about it, it makes me more inclined to do it. Once again, I don't think time out is necessarily bad. It can be a time for cooling down for parent and child and heaven forbid it's much better than hitting your child or screaming and yelling.  I do believe though, that looking behind the behavior and figuring out the why will be more effective in the long run.  Time out may stop the behavior immediately, but probably not long term.


  1. Great ideas! I have always had mixed feelings about time out. I was a kid who wanted so desperately to please my parents that I'm sure time out would've made me feel shame and guilt, which can lead to all sorts of problems later in life. Now that I am a mom, I do try time out with Noah sometimes, but he doesn't even seem to care. He just sits there and plays...I don't think he learns anything from it because he hardly seems to notice it. It's kind of funny. Thanks for these great ideas!

  2. This is a great post! I'm eager to try a few things with K. I also might need to get my hands on that Maggie Stevens book!