I presented to another mother’s morning out group this week. Another stimulating and very wise group of women. Some trying to work at home with young children. Most stay at home Mom’s. All bright and loving and so interested in grasping motherhood fully. Understanding and nurturing their child so that they attain maximum potential was each one’s goal.
One Mom described her frustration with reading a parenting book and attempting to follow the author’s directions but meeting lots of resistance with her three year old. The problem was simple and age old. When he tantrummed, he could not be directed into time out. The book instructed the parent to place the child into time out when he began to cry, whine or act out. She noted that he wouldn’t go, and it was time consuming and disruptive to her activity to continue to persuade him.
One day I went to work looking like I had been run over by a truck. Basically because I had. My four year old could not find her shoes and had gone ballistic. It was only 8:45am and we were both devastated. I went straight to the psychologist of the residential treatment facility where I worked, sat down and said, “I need a consult.” Of course he thought it was about one of the residents. I then began to pour out my story of morning frustration and the concept of time out. What he said changed our lives and my children’s future I’m sure. This wise psychologist, (wasn’t I lucky not only to have training as a child psychiatrist but to work with a staff of behavioral specialist?!) said, “Time out is not a place.” “What? don’t tell me that after all the books I’ve read about time out and 1, 2, 3 not so magic! What?” Truly, I was stunned, but instantly once I gathered the information, knew that he was right. Time out is not a place. It is more the context of the relationship between parent and child. Therefore, if you have a child who refuses to separate when he is distraught, then you simply ignore both the child and the behavior. You will see an immediate and drastic change if you simply disregard. Of course, whenever I lecture, I remind parents that I don’t mean if the child is bleeding or hurt or in serious distress that he should be ignored.
These parents knew their children. They also knew what was working and what was not. I encouraged them that if they were trying a strategy like time out and their child was not going and the situation was rapidly escalating, to cease and desist. Use common sense and try something else. Two of our children went calmly and repently to time out when they misbehaved. The third dug in, entrenched the out of control behavior and got more anxious and agitated.When Dr. Scott reminded me that time out is a frame of reference and not a place a wonderful shift occurred in our family. The premise of time out is not punitive. Rather it is to help and teach the child that taking a breath away from the stressor is a good way to gain emotional stability.
I reminded everyone that sometimes crying is simply a necessary neurological discharge of tension. Especially if the tantrums occurs in similar situations or at the same time of day, you should think about altering schedules, or monitoring blood sugar and offering snacks. One child would cry about a broken toy when his younger sister was being fed. For this a mother suggested that a special time with the older sibling prior to the feeding of the younger might help with what appeared to be an attempt to gain his Mom’s attention. I suggested that the Mother and the younger child try leaving the room when the older sibling began to complain and tantrum.
Books can help but aren’t able to adjust to your specific situation or child’s temperament. I always remind parents that bargaining, threatening, pleading or rationalizing with children during a tantrum is a definite march down the road to more drama. No matter how long the tantrum lasts don’t ever do it. Positive reinforcement for negative behavior will increase the negative behavior. Speaking to your child and turning your attention from your task is positive reinforcement. Even if you don’t intend for it to be, it is.
We ended with a note regarding another tip I learned along the way for handling the hyperaroused child’s tantrums. If the tantrums continue for longer than 5-10 minutes and the child seems to escalate and become increasingly agitated, it sometimes work to walk up to the child, whether he is in his room or the living room and touch him saying something like, “I’m here. It’s OK.” After a few seconds, you can leave the room but return at 5-10 minute intervals. You can tell if it’s working if your child calms.
We ended the hour with a discussion about media. My take home message about media is if your child is in a two dimensional digital relationship then he can’t be learning about how to be in a human one. This applies to all humans no matter what age. Turn off media, and all things digital. Let them run and play, cry and fall down, laugh and move. This is what they need and gross motor activity will also help modulate their affect.
The Moms implored me to consider the difficult task they faced because “everyone else let’s their child use an iPad at dinner or the cell phone for games if the whine.” “Yes they do,” I agreed, “and this will continue.” But you don’t have to do it because others do. In fact as a parent it is your obligation to restrict harmful things from your children. I ended with another anecdote about my family. I didn’t allow PG-13 movies until my children were much older than thirteen. Frankly, I was suspect about Hollywood’s judgment over adult content. A well placed suspicion. We had endless talks about “everyone is going but me, I’m the only one that doesn’t have a Sega or Nintendo, and every boy in the school is…” “Well, I responded, “not once but a thousand times, I don’t expect you to be every boy. I expect more.” Now when we have family dinners we laugh about the time I dropped the television on my toe while trying to carry it to the closet. My children tell me of someone’s addiction to video games and how they skip class to play. They thank me for the very restrictions they railed against just ten years ago.
Our Lord clearly admonishes, “You are in the world but not of it.” Count me in for that please. Surely, we didn’t think it was going to be easy. Because it definitely is not. Just ask the Moms from this week’s group, they know.