Goodbye, Timeout for Two

Posted on
Categories Behavior, Books, Discipline, How Do The Moms Do It, Parenting, Parenting TwinsTags , , , , , , 3 Comments
seated kid
Photo Credit: Frodrig

After over 6 years of effective use, I am retiring timeout as a discipline tool. At age 7, it’s more humiliating for my oh-so-grownup children than it’s worth, and it’s hardly effective. Thanks to my daughters’ relatively mature ability to understand causes and effect and long term consequences, I have many more nuanced discipline approaches at my disposal. I need punishments and rewards to fit the crime rather than the one size fits all gem that was timeout. My 7-year-olds are old enough to understand delayed consequences, something a much younger child just isn’t capable of.

I suspect that every reader of How Do You Do It? is familiar with how to use timeout to discipline young children, but I’ll spell it out just in case. Timeout is, essentially, using a brief withdrawal of parental or child-giver attention as a consequence of undesired behaviour. Most parents I know have a specific location designated for timeout, and the child has to remain there for the duration of the punishment, essentially ignored by everyone. Some parents have their child sit on the bottom step of a staircase or have a timeout seat. I went for the convenience of a washcloth placed on the floor next to a wall. It was portable, and my daughters knew that they were expected to sit on the washcloth. Best of all, on the rare occasion that they both needed to go to timeout, I could just put washcloths next to opposite walls, and I instantly had 2 timeout locations that lacked the distraction of Sissy.

Hit your twin? Mommy won’t hit back; that would just teach that violence is acceptable in the home. Instead, for a few minutes (1 minute per year of age, starting around age 1), Mommy won’t make eye contact with the child or speak to him. That’s the real punishment. Children crave and need attention. It’s pretty counterintuitive to ignore them when they’re kicking, screaming and being all around obnoxious. It takes a thick skin to do that in public, knowing that you’re being judged by people who don’t know what children are really like. The long term payoff of rewarding good constructive behaviour with attention and withdrawing it for bad is worth it, though.

It’s ideal, of course, if the child stays in the timeout location of her own accord. That idea didn’t stick until my kids were convinced, around age 2, that no amount of screaming or running out of timeout was going to get me to back down and give them my attention.

I recently had the opportunity to care for my then-2-year-old nephew. I was only there for a week and timeouts had not been a consistent part of his life. It didn’t take long for him to get it, though. The first three days, I’d sit him in his timeout seat and wait for him to start to climb out of it. Silently, and without eye contact, I’d lift him up and sit him back in the chair. Over his 120 seconds of punishment, I’ve had to reseat him up to 35 times. From day 4, on, though, he got it. He stopped trying to fight it. At the end of his 2 minutes, I’d pick him up, kiss him, tell him I love him, and remind him of the behaviour that had earned him a timeout and ask him to do the opposite in the future.

The popular book 1-2-3 Magic offers an effective and simple methodology that hinges on timeout. I didn’t read the book until I needed to help a friend struggling with managing her young kids. Consistency didn’t come naturally to her, and the book gave her encouragement when she needed it. My then-husband and I didn’t get much from the book, primarily because we were unknowingly already practicing its teachings: Use timeout consistently.

Some parents vary the length of time spent in timeout in accordance with the gravity of the offense. A second or third offense may also get a longer punishment. We didn’t take that approach. The beauty of timeout is that it’s super-flexible, which helps explain its ubiquity.

The other day, I found myself in the odd position of needing to distil my parenting approach into a bulleted list. It came down to this: be consistent, reward good choices, and maintain a focus on the adults your children will become. For me, timeout was a big part of consistency and the other side of rewarding good behaviour. I hope that the core understanding that actions have consequences has set my kids up for success throughout their lives. It’s certainly been working well for them so far.

Do you use timeout as a discipline approach? What variations work for you? How do you handle your kids’ escape plots?

 

Share this...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrShare on RedditDigg thisShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Not Their Friend

Posted on
Categories Balance, Behavior, Co-parenting, Discipline, Mommy Issues, Relationships, School-AgeTags , , , , , , , , , 7 Comments

We’ve been having some discipline issues around here recently. The girls have been talking back to me in a way that is not appropriate for 5-year-olds. Both M and J have had emotional outbursts that can be described only as tantrums. Age 4 and the first half of age 5 were nearly tantrum-free, so this flashback to age 3 was unexpected and unpleasant. I’d say something innocuous, and see one child or the other go rigid, rise on her toes, and clench her jaw before letting out a shriek. Despite my efforts not to, I would feel my own muscles tense and my blood pressure rise in response.

During the Reign of Tantrum Terror, also known as the Terrible Threes, I prided myself for being unflappable in the face of the girls’ outbursts, trying to show them how calm thought can work in one’s favour. I used to count slowly to 3, using both my speaking voice and my fingers, refusing the temptation to try to raise my voice over theirs. At 3, off the culprit went to time out, sitting on the floor facing a wall for a minute per year of their age. It didn’t matter if we were home or out in the world. If there wasn’t a wall available, a tree would serve just as well for a time out location.

I’ll confess that I had allowed the thick skin I developed during the Terrible Threes to melt away. At the same time, my children had learned to say, “No.” The first time that one of my daughters said “No,” when ordered to time out, I lost it. I yelled at her to go to time out, and this time she followed my instructions. I immediately knew that throwing a tantrum of my own wasn’t going to help things. All I was doing was validating the effectiveness of their unacceptable behaviour.

My relationships with both M and J became increasingly charged over a couple of months. My husband finally had to step in with some very constructive, but painful, criticism. He pointed out that the girls had learned that they could argue with me, and I was failing to rise above. I needed to remind them that “because Mom said so” carried weight.

He was right, of course.  I had been so enjoying the recent explosion of both girls’ critical thinking that I had been inviting them to offer their own opinions, and trying to show them, whenever I could, how I reached the conclusions and decisions that I did. In my attempts to encourage them to question the status quo, I had put myself in the position of their friend, not their mother.

I shed a few tears, and slept on it. Once I’d marshalled my thoughts, I sat M and J down at the dining table for a conversation. I told them that I appreciated their ideas, and loved our discussions, but I was the mother. When I asked them to do something, I meant that they should do it immediately. If they had questions about the why of things, they could ask them later, and I would decide whether or not they were open to discussion. I would also be the one to decide when they could be discussed. The girls would go to time out when I told them to, and they would listen to me. Period.

After a week of maintaining my icy calm, and an average of 3 time outs per child per day, we’ve settled back into solid mother-daughter relationships. Much as I hope to be a friend to M and J when they are grown, I am exclusively their mother in the here and now.

Do you find yourself becoming complacent and compromising your parental authority? How do you fix it?

Sadia is a Bangladeshi and British working mother of twins and American army wife living on the Texas-Mexico border. Her thoughts on matters of parenting, twins, and parenting twins can be found at Double the Fun.

Share this...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrShare on RedditDigg thisShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

Timeouts = Trouble X Two

Posted on
Categories Behavior, Parenting Twins, ToddlersTags , , 8 Comments

Our girls are now 19 months old, and they are going through a biting phase. My response is to remove the biter from the situation for a minute. I sit the biter on the step, which is the same time out spot as we do for our almost-4-year-old son. It all sounds good in theory, but here’s what happened last time:

The Biter* bit her sister, The Victim, because The Victim got in her way. The Biter was clearly frustrated and unhappy with the situation.  The Victim, with teeth marks on her arm, was also unhappy. When I removed The Biter and sat her on the step, she settled right down.  She sat on the step quietly for a few moments, and then was ready to get back to her toys.  Meanwhile, The Victim cried because she had been bitten. Then, she cried because her sister got to have a timeout she didn’t.  In the end, I had to “give” her a time out too because she felt she had been further victimized by being denied a timeout.

(* I don’t believe in labeling my children this way, and I assure you they have both been biters and victims, but this was the easiest way to keep track of who’s who for the story.)

Any suggestions for next time?

Share this...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrShare on RedditDigg thisShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone

My First Time

Posted on
Categories ParentingTags , , , , , 5 Comments

I was 43. He was 7.

To paraphrase/elaborate upon St. Paul: When I was a child, I thought as a child. I spoke as a child. When I acted unacceptably, I was spanked as a child. To paraphrase every corporal punishment apologist, I turned out okay — psychologically undamaged from derriere-administered discipline.

Prior to parenthood, after discussion with my comparably corrected husband and pending parenting partner, we agreed. We’d likely employ the method as occasion(s) deemed fit.

However, following my son’s – and his twin sister’s – birth, the implementation of the swat/smack/spank simply felt wrong.

Perhaps pridefully, I became besotted with the efficacy of oral diatribes regarding behavioral expectations (frequently paired with the removal of privileges), and was repulsed by the prospect of engaging in the “do as I say and not as I do” inconsistency. Seven years and two months passed.

In the interest of word count, and a modicum of discretion for my son’s and my privacy, details of the catalyst infraction need not be revealed. Suffice it to say, on the day described, all other punitive means had been exhausted.

With a bare hand and a heavy heart, contact was made. Tears were shed. (I managed to hold off on mine until he had run up to his room.) The sister, well-aware of her brother’s lapse and the subsequent consequence, with respectful dignity uncharacteristic of one her age, went into the den.

So then what did I do? I called my mother – who with no subtlety in times past had implied my parenting arsenal was incomplete for the absence of the proverbial “rod.” Did I call to confess my matriculation into the Spanking Parents’ Society, or was I somehow unashamedly professing my actions — seeking parental validation and/or approval from my own mother?

As I write this now – outing myself as a deflowered spanker – am I seeking forgiveness or acceptance, understanding or empathy, from those with whom I am treading parenting’s path — or a virtual spanking via reprimanding comment?

My children, uterine co-habitants though they may have been, have already demonstrated they respond to varied modes of direction – and correction. Our daughter tends to seek our parental (and others’) approval more readily – sublimating her own child-like desires to meet that goal. Not so with our son.

So did the spanking work? As the Magic 8 Ball would say, “All signs point to ‘Yes’.” Am I still tormented by the incident? Affirmative. But what torments me more? The idea that I had to resort to something I initially did not want to do — perhaps admitting defeat — or the actual physicality/ perceived violence of a hit? Maybe a bit of both.

Humiliation (not unlike guilt or shame), in moderation, may be healthy. Pain (carefully administered), parceled in moderation, may be proactive.

Let me have it.
______________________________
c. 2008, Cheryl Lage
Cross-posted from our family blog, Twinfatuation

Share this...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on TumblrShare on RedditDigg thisShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone