Out of Control on Time-out | Teaching Self-Government

Out of Control on Time-out


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"My almost 3 yo fights and kicks and cries when I take him to time-out (I have to carry him there), and then cries very loudly and even will scream at me when I'm telling him that he needs to stay there until he can become happy.  My husband thinks all of this is very disrespectful and feels that we need to spank him or do something different so that my son doesn't do this.  He thinks I am teaching my son that it's okay to fight me and scream at me.  What do you think?"

I understand your husband's frustration, and yours.  Your child is definitely "out of instructional control" and not accepting a negative consequence. 

First off, where is time out?  If it is in a public place in the home, that needs to change.  You should not give your son an audience to show off for.  He also shouldn't see you at all during his time-out time.  He is using his emotions to win a power struggle with you.  My time out place is next to a wall in my bedroom, or by the front door of our home.  These areas are not traveled often by members of the family.  Having a somewhat secluded area for time-out takes away an audience which will encourage your child to calm himself down faster.  Also, he doesn't get the impression that he is abusing you if he can't see you at all. 

Some children really do love to push their parent's buttons.  They notice when they have had control over another person's emotions and feel empowered by that.  As parents we have a responsibility to remove all emotion from our feelings and actions when our child is trying to cause problems on purpose to make us upset.  They need to see that you know their change of heart and behavior is up to them and you will patiently wait for them to change with a feeling of love, and acceptance.  This unspoken feeling coming from you, also takes away any emotional power the child is trying to have over you.  My rule is: I am happy and energetic when someone does something good or thoughtful, and emotionless in voice, face and actions if someone chooses wrong and needs to be corrected or taught.  I do not talk to a child who is out of control after the initial instructions.  If they say anything to me, I do not allow my buttons to be pushed.  I also usually start doing really fun things with the other children.

Remember how one of the steps in all of the four basics is "Calm face, voice and body"?  We must model this behavior for our children when we are correcting these behaviors in them.  Actions really do speak louder.

The fact that your son continues to display the same behaviors on time out means that either your time out is always in front of an audience which gives him attention, you are letting him win by giving in to his tantrums, or you are engaging in power struggles to make him stop his tantrums. 

Once your time out location is adequate for calming and thinking, then make a resolution to let him stay there, how ever long it takes, until he decides to choose to be calm.  Check on him every five minutes to make sure you don't leave him there forever.  Make sure that he knows that you will only come to talk to him after he has chosen to sit quietly for two minutes.  (Because he is two)  You need to go over all of this as a pre-teach.  practice sitting still for two minutes with him, so that he knows how long two minutes feels like.  Then the first time he goes to time out, remind him that he has to choose to get calm and stay calm for two minutes.  Right when he gets calm, pop your head in the time-out area and say, "You are calm, I am now setting the timer for two minutes, then we will hug and talk."  Then follow through.  If he starts crying, etc, again, simply pop you head back in the room, and tell him that you can see he is choosing to go out of instructional control again, so you can't start the time yet, but you will when he chooses to get calm again.  If he plays a game with this kind of prompting, just let him sit there for two quiet minutes before you ever enter time-out. 

You may want to set up some sort of a positive consequence for if he goes to time-out quietly and only says, "OK."  This sounds strange to do considering he probably just chose to do something wrong, but this is how it works.  You tell him he has earned to go sit in time-out for a while until he calms down, and then immediately pre-teach/remind him that you have set up a reward system for him when he chooses to control himself and go to time-out correctly. 

Then, after he has used time-out to get calm and think for his few minutes, you go in and hug and praise for good time-out behavior, award the positive consequence, (story w/ Mom, treat, etc), and then the most important part; you have a talk about what he did wrong to go to time-out to calm down, and what he should have done differently.  Then  practice the correct behavior three times, and follow through with the negative consequence for the behavior.  Even two year olds, can loose TV, Computer, Snack, Friends, ETC for a certain amount of hours or a day.  If time-out is the only consequence, he really could feel that his consequence is too easy to care about.  Time-out is the place to have a change of heart, the consequence earned is for the negative behavior. 

About spanking:

I know there are different opinions on spanking out there.  It probably depends upon if your parents spanked you when you were young, and if it worked on you or not.  Often times we think that the person who ended up with control came out a winner, and the controlling, spanking parent is definitely the one who ends up in control when they choose to spank their child.  However, I don't see the spanking parent as the winner of a control battle at all!  I have only seen spanking used correctly a few times.  Most of the time, a parent becomes frustrated with a child's behavior and impulsively strikes their child to "snap the child out of it", or to ease their frustration.  We all feel a little bit better when we hit something, especially when we had a strong impulse to do it first.  If you are controlling your son by force, then he will continue to try to control your emotions by force as well. 

The example of spanking in "Little Britches book 1" by: Ralph Moody was one of the only good spanking examples I have ever seen.    The spanking parent wins the obvious, spoken power struggle, but the inner power struggle can't ever be won with a sharp hand unless the relationship is solidly built upon respect and love by both parties first.  My parents hit me a few times growing up.  :)  I remember those times vividly.  Not because I felt a new respect for my parent or anything like that.  On the contrary, I shut right up, like they wanted, but I filled my soul with malice toward them that would last for weeks, even months.  I considered myself superior to them, because they lost control.  I remember thinking through all the mean things that I felt like saying to them in the quiet of my own bed, after they had lovingly tucked me in.  I didn't respect them, even though the whole reason they hit me was because they wanted more respect. 

I consider it a special gift from God that I have such great,vivid memories of my childhood emotions and battles.  Remembering these experiences helped me make my choice about spanking my children. 

Example:  You talk back to your Mom, (Your child's grandmother)

Mom asks you to come over to help her weed her garden today.  You have a busy day.  You tell your mom that you are too busy to come.  Mom says, "I really need you today.  I have to get this done immediately."  You say, "To bad Mom, you'll just have to do it yourself.  I can't just drop everything all the time to do what you want done."  (You talked back with disrespect.)  Your Mom, reaches out her hand and slaps you across the face or backside.  (What are you really thinking here?)  You are in complete shock that your mother would be so selfish and disrespectful to you.  Because of your shock, you walk out the door.  You didn't hit your mom back, and you didn't talk back to her any more, but then you didn't really talk to mom again for six months, and even then your relationship was strained. 

Did your mom get you to stop talking back to her?  Yes.  Was she able to earn your respect in the process? 

It might seem strange that I tell a story about grown ups instead of a small child and parent, but I did this on purpose so that you could feel what your child really does feel when he gets hit.  His behavior will change, but his heart will become hardened.  Is it worth it?  The whole reason I teach Self Government parenting classes, is to free parents from the impulse to push their children away from them and their families, simply to change a behavior.  You can have both good behaviors, and loving relationships all at the same time. 

I can't promise you that you will not ever get frustrated again, but I can assure you that if you learn how to look at yourself as the person responsible for inspiring your son's change of heart instead of the person responsible for making him pleasant all the time, then you will not become frustrated nearly as often.  Let yourself look past the minute, while in the minute, then the minute won't rule your emotions.  What you are doing for your son is SO MUCH larger than that one crazy minute, and what he needs to change has to be bigger than that minute too. 

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