Monday, June 28, 2010

Time Outs, Revisited

Anonymous writes:

I want to start off by thanking you for this blog! I have very similar qualifications and work with the same types of children. I implement TO dozens of times a day yet I struggle with behavior issues at home! I have a very bright, funny, sweet....HARD headed, overly emotional, stubborn, independent 2.5 year old daughter! The arrival of her baby sister has sent her into a tailspin (biting other children, spitting, hitting, HORRIBLE tantrums). I need to start using TO at home. Do you suggest I start by making time out a confined space such as a playpen or should I go right to the stair/carpet? Also, can you please elaborate further on what we should do when she just runs around the room laughing and refusing to take the time out?  Thanks again! This was amazing and I really needed somebody to put things back into perspective for me!!
Thank you for making my day, Anonymous!

First of all, I think we need to be really careful with introducing siblings into the family.  I hear a lot of parents setting themselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy, by acting like they're scarring their older child for life when they bring home a baby sister or brother.  This is a Very Bad Plan (not that it sounds like you're necessarily doing this, Anon, but this is where my head went first).  I think it's vitally important to the health of our children's relationships with each other that we treat the arrival of a new sibling like the gift that it is. I can't tell you how often I say things to my kids like:
  • Friends will come and go, but a sister is a forever friend.
  • No one will ever love you the way your sister loves you. You should be nice to her and take good care of her.
  • You should always look out for your sister.  She is so special!
...and so on.  Daily, at least, if not more.  And now that Gozer is on the way we're already talking in extremely excited and positive terms about how much fun it's going to be to have a baby!  I think that if you say negative things like, "Mommy and Daddy won't have as much time for you when the baby comes," and so on, or if you're constantly making your older child wait until you've finished doing something with the baby, you're setting yourself up for a lifetime of problems.  (I think I can speak as an authority on the subject because I have outstanding relationships with both of my siblings, and my kids' teachers have commented on how exceptionally close my kids are with each other).

So, in other words, if you're doing any negative talking about the baby and the attention she's taking away from your older child, even if it's true, even if it's in empathy, stop right away.  Instead of saying, "I know you don't like sister because she takes all my attention right now," or something along those lines, make it positive.  Say instead, "I know it seems hard now, but you are going to have so much fun with your sister when she gets a little bit bigger.  You guys can ride bikes together, play dolls together...  You're so lucky!"  Put as positive a spin on the situation as you can, both when you're talking to her and when you're talking in her presence.  And for anyone reading who might be expecting, start before the sibling is born.

Now, on to your specific questions, if you're just starting TO at 2.5 you may have to physically confine your daughter until she figures it out.  I would try a playpen (not one where she plays normally, of course.  It needs to be a unique space that's only for time outs).  You don't want to use the crib, either, lest she have negative associations with going to bed.  If confinement is impossible, then when she runs around like a crazy person when she's supposed to be in time out, the universe - as far as she is concerned - stops.  No TV, no interaction with Mom and Dad, no meals, no snacks, no diaper changes (!!), no NOTHING until she takes her time out.  If she whines (and she will) say, "I'll be happy to do that when you've finished your time out."  Try to say it as neutrally and matter of factly as you can.  You don't want to let on to her that she's driving you nuts, even if she is.  She's "making bad choices" and you're "disappointed in her behavior," but you're telling her this in a very matter of fact tone of voice. 

So she's still running around.  Remember that your attention is your greatest currency with her.  Don't look at her.  Don't laugh at her.  Don't talk to her except to say, "You need to take your time out," and, "I'll be happy to do that for you when you've taken your time out."

You also have to be sure that she knows what a time out is.  Role play it with her.  Give yourself a time out and show her what you expect her to do.  Talk through it.  "Uh oh, Mommy said a naughty word.  Mommy gets a time out."  Then go to the step and say, "I need to sit here quietly and think about what I did."  Wait a couple minutes, then say, "I'm all finished.  I got a time out for saying a naughty word.  I'll try to use nice words instead."

I've given myself time outs once or twice, and it has been very powerful.  One time my oldest (who sounds a lot like yours) was mad at me because I'd told her I'd make spaghetti (her favorite) for supper, and I changed the plan without telling her.  I avoided a complete meltdown by taking a time out, and then explaining to her why I'd changed the plan (whatever I made instead was faster, and it was getting late, or something). 

It's not fair to get upset with her if she doesn't understand what you expect, so be sure that you're clear. Make sure she knows exactly how to take a time out.  You're going to have to explain it to her and model it for her more than once.

You don't say how old your baby is, but I found that initially we had a little bit of adjustment, then things were surprisingly smooth for several months, and the real sibling rivalry started when Claire was able to move around and take toys from Mary Grace - right around the age when she stopped sleeping all the time and learned to crawl.  If you're not there yet, expect improvement between now and then, and then another regression.  I promise, though, that if you make sure you talk about having a sister in positive terms, and if you remind her what a gift you've given her (and trust me, you really have!  My kids play together constantly and are so lonely when one of them goes somewhere without the other.  And I can tell you that the sibling relationship is something that is so precious and irreplaceable as an adult - I'm blessed with lots of close friends, but my sister and brother "get" me in a way that few people can... or would want to!) you'll see that it'll turn around. 

Our kids believe what we tell them about themselves and their world - so we need to be really careful how we spin it.  If you tell her that her sister is a stinky little usurper who ruined her life, she'll believe you.  If you tell her that her sister is a gift, and that she'll be her best friend, and that she'll be her favorite playmate, and that she's SO MUCH FUN, she'll believe you too.

I hope this helps.  Email me if you have more specific questions, and we'll see what we can do.

3 comments:

Rachel said...

Awesome!! Thanks. A lot of stuff I already knew, but so nice to have things clarified, and a lot of really good ideas.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Amy. My children are really close too. I used to reward my daughter with extra one-on-one undivided time when she helped with James by letting her pick a couple books as soon as he started a nap and read them to her. Maybe anon could set up a small reward if the child makes it a certain amount of time with no Time outs-special play time with a parent and no distractions. -Becky

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