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Done with the Power Struggles of Time Out

I am furious.  I am standing at the kids bedroom door locked in a physical struggle to hold the door closed while my mind is struggling to keep me from slamming the door open into the shrieking child behind it.  Thankfully the final shred of my mothering sanity wins and I jerk myself away from the door unleashing the screaming little boy from his “time-out”.  I storm away into my room, out through the back door and into the backyard.  I count to myself to dampen the anger.  I breath.  I can still hear him crying behind me as I try to regain my calm so I can start over.

I Don't Think This Is Working…

The episode I just mentioned is just one of our experiments with using time-out.  Over the years I've tried variations on time-out with my kids.

1, 2, 3 – Ok, now you have to sit for 3 minutes

In your room

In the bathroom

In this chair

You hit, you sit

Time-out means so many different things to so many different people.  What I mean above is that we've tried a number of variations on the more formalized time-out as consequence, sitting in one spot for a certain period of time.

It's been mildly effective at times – it's taught me about where I have a hard time enforcing consistent rules and it's helped us ratchet down the chaos sometimes when every day was feeling like a battle.

However, most often it has only been the spark to yet another power struggle.

With my middle child, I finally came to a realization that between his personality and mine, trying to enforce this type of time-out was likely to end in child abuse, so I started searching for other ways to discipline.

What I've learned about Time Out in Our Family:

Ok, sometimes, it works. We all have times when we need a break to collect ourselves and calm down.  This kind of calm-down and chill-out time can help, but if I try to make it a One Size Fits All consequence it causes fury.  Which leads us to the next point.

It makes us angry – me and the kids. When Time Out means a prescribed number of minutes and a child sitting in a specific spot it tends to lead to powers struggles.  I feel like an idiot trying to physically make my child stay in that spot.  And, at least with one of my kids, that child will not stay in that spot separated from me unless forced to.  This means that when instead of feeling calm I feel more and more angry when I'm unable to get things under control.

It makes at least one of my children feel scared and unwanted.  (He's told me as much.) This breach in our relationship then takes time to heal.  When he feels disconnected from me he is more likely to act out in angry and unhelpful ways.

Taking my own time-out, however, is an extremely effective way for me to stop a Mama Tantrum.  The more often my kids have seen me do this, the more they have become willing to take their own calm-down time-outs.  However, when I've tried to force the calm-down time to happen it usually just adds fuel to the fire.

Doing sensory activitie to calm down

Sometimes when tempers flare, doing a sensory activity helps us calm down so we can find a solution.

What to do instead of time-out?

The answer I'm finding is a multi-pronged approach to discipline – not trying to make one thing the answer.  Many of the tools I've been putting in plae I've found in the Positive Parenting Solutions Course by Amy McCready.  I host quarterly webinars with Amy and I'm an affilaite of hers, since she's been so helpful for my household.  I'm hosting a free webinar with Amy February 13th, 2014 if you'd like to learn some new techniques.  Here are some things that work:

  • I'm giving myself permission to take time and think.  I can get through the immediate crisis and then come back to talk about the misbehavior later when everyone is calm instead of thinking they'll learn something while everyone is upset.
  • I've been doing more work to connect to my kids to help avoid conflicts.  When the kids feel positive attention from me, they have less need to draw my attention with negative behaviors.  You can subscribe to my newsletter if you'd like to receive ideas regularly for simple ways to connect.
  • I've been teaching my boys how to work out their own disagreements to reduce hitting.
  • When necessary I've been implementing consequences that relate to what is happening.  When I don't know what to do, I use the consequence of, “You need to pick up five things.”  I've told them, “If you add to the chaos in this house you need to do something to help bring peace.” My 7 year old mentions his interpretation of this rule in an interview I did with him about what to do if you're mad at your kids:

    What if parents have something really important they want to tell their kids?

    If you’re trying to tell your kids not to hit, but they keep hitting, spanking them or hitting them or really loudly yelling doesn’t work.  What you want to do is tell them to go clean up five things.  That’s something that can help you tell them you’re serious and it can’t hurt them in any way. So every time your kids hit or if it turns into a fight, ask them to pick up five things if they can’t figure out a solution. ~James (7)

If Time Out has been a source of power struggles and tears in your house and you'd like to learn more about ways to get your kids to cooperate without nagging, I am fortunate to be able to offer readers a FREE LIVE training webinar on  February 13th from 9-10 PM Eastern Time.  Please join me as I host Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions & TODAY Show contributor, for this webinar called, “Getting Kids To Listen” Seats are limited, do RSVP so you can join us!

 What about you?  Have you used some variation of time-out?  Has it been helpful? Do you take “mama time outs?” I found I was turning to time-out as a consequence when I had no idea what else to do.  What do you do when you face a situation like that?