The Trouble with Time Out

Before I begin, please understand that I believe time out is a major improvement over spanking and physical punishment. There's much to celebrate when a culture stops intentionally inflicting pain upon its children. And I while I am incredibly grateful for that shift, I think we can do even better.

I realize I might take some heat for writing this, because I'm critiquing a technique that many parents have been taught to use as their primary disciplinary intervention. I'm okay with heat. In my own life and work, I strive to periodically re-evaluate my strategies and take stock of their effectiveness. My parenting advice has evolved over the years since I started doing this work, and I hope it continues to do so for many years to come. My intention here is to inspire you to take a closer look at whether this technique is truly working for you and your child.

If you have already done your own evaluation and feel confident that it is, that's great! No need to keep reading.

Nothing we do makes a dent in these troubling behaviors of our three year old

Here are some of the troubling behaviors of our three year old son: 

- head butts walls and anything hard
- eats weird things like fluff and string
- steals lighters and sets fires in his room
- turns on all the stove burners and burns food to make thick black smoke
- sneaks and hides scissors to cut his clothes

- always speaks about himself in third person, never says I or Me

We have tried time outs. We don't believe in smacking or spanking. We have taken away toys he likes and he doesn't care. 

We are young parents and people we talk to think we cannot cope but this is wrong! He can be a loving and caring child but when he has "that look in his eyes" we feel like we are talking to a brick wall.

We have done a lot of research but nothing helps. Any ideas are welcome!
 
Bless your hearts - it sounds like you are doing your very best to do right by your son, and he's lucky that you are so dedicated to parenting him well. And good for you for not resorting to smacking him.

I think you are right that these behaviors have nothing to do with being young parents or not being able to handle him -- what you describe does seem outside the typical range of developmentally appropriate behaviors for kids his age, and you deserve every possible bit of support to help you work with him.

Assume that helping your child with his homework improves his grades? Think again!

Just read a fascinating article in the New York Times about parental involvement. You might think it's a no-brainer that the more involved the parent, the better the kid's school performance. But that turns out to not always be the case:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/12/parental-involvement-is-overrated/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
 
My theory on this? If parents can be engaged and interested in their child's schooling AND not increase the stress load on their child, then their involvement may be beneficial.

what kids really need from their parents after a divorce

spoiler alert:  It's NOT an exact 50/50 split of overnights

I witness many parents fighting tooth and nail for 50/50 parenting time; investing tremendous amounts of time, energy and money into ensuring a perfectly equal distribution of their children's time and location.

And as a divorced parent myself, I am intimately familiar with the fear and anxiety that drives the fierce determination to be an "equal" parent.

But here's the good news and the bad news:  We are using the wrong variables in this calculation.

tip for divorce/joint custody mediation

During high conflict mediations, it can be tempting
to point out how unreasonable, wrong, misguided
or irrational the other party is being.

The risk of doing so is two-fold:

the lastest science about the teenage brain

Dan Siegel, author of the excellent parenting book Parenting from the Inside Out, has recently published a new book about the teenage brain: Brainstorm.

I just listened to him being interviewed by Dr. Laura Markham of ahaparenting.com and I think you'll really enjoy what he has to share. He explodes a lot of the unfortunately persistent cultural myths that stimulate parental fear and dread in our society. Teens really can be fun and energizing to parent when you understand what's happening in their brains and bodies.

You can hear the interview here:  http://www.ahaparenting.com/_blog/Parenting_Blog/post/listen-to-dr-dan-siegel-talk-about-the-brain-teens/

For more information about Karen's parenting or interpersonal communication consultations by phone, visit www.karenalonge.com

your baby cries in order to communicate - please don't ignore her

I would love to see this article by a psychology professor at Notre Dame given to every new parent -- will you help me pass it along?

There's a biological reason why crying is so physically aversive and every nerve in your body longs to quiet and soothe a distressed child: warm attention, gentle touch, and compassionate empathy are exactly what humans need to grow and thrive.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out

An important caveat - if you are feeling anger or rage, or afraid you might harm your child, it's always best to put her down in a safe place and let her cry until you've calmed yourself down.

For more information about Karen's parenting or interpersonal communication consultations by phone, visit www.karenalonge.com

What's wrong with tickling my child, and what should I do instead?

You said in your last post not to tickle. Why? I tickle my child just a little bit and she seems to like it -- she even asks for it!

There are lots of different lines of thought about tickling, of course, and lots of different responses from kids.

Some kids have a love/hate relationship with tickling -- they love the playfulness and attention from their parents, but they hate the feeling of being out of control that being tickled produces.

My child is hyper and revved up in the evenings. How do I get him to settle down for bedtime?

My son gets so squirrelly in the evenings that he just can't seem to settle down at bedtime. We've tried music, stories, warm baths with lavender, massage, calming teas, and every other soothing aid we can think of, but he just seems to become more determined to bounce around or shout or throw things around. What else can we do?

Here's a different angle to try:  wrestle and play other highly physical games with him to allow him to playfully experience resistance and warm, fun physical contact with you. It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes when kids wind up in the evening it's due to a backlog of unexpended energy or some unprocessed emotional experiences that have accumulated during the day, and if that's the case, calming activities don't seem to settle them down (f anything, they sometimes have the reverse effect and wind them up even more!)