The time out conundrum

As my youngest freaked out over something small and my husband tried to say no, we got the talk back.  The inevitable return of a request or direction given to your child comes right back at you, plus sass.  As my husband asked the follow-up question, “do you want to go to time out?” there was a brief hesitation before a smile and enthusiastic “YES!”  Looking to me for my reaction, my husband’s eyebrows raised.  “Don’t do it,” I said.  When its what they want, you don’t do it.  Right?  But how did my little one know that this reverse psychology would work on me?  What now?  Luckily, when time out wasn’t the ultimate goal and therefore, didn’t happen, the behavior stopped and listening started.  But what about when that doesn’t work?

I remember my eldest going through the same problem.  When they ask for it, you don’t give it to them.  Why reward them…if you can call it a reward if its getting what they want?  Instead, I used what my sister did.  Isolation.  Cruel, yes, but it worked.  Time out started in a visible area, so we could monitor any other misbehaviors that went along with singing the blues (or screaming maddeningly).  Once they were old enough, it was off to their bedroom to sit and wait it out.  I still remember the cries of “mommy, I’m all done!” that I would ignore until I deemed it was time to come out.  It worked though.  When the status hadn’t elevated to the level of hyperventilating or sobbing uncontrollably to the point of peeing in one’s pants, it worked.  Now, in our new house, there is a completely different level of scary isolation: a different floor for the time out in the bedroom.  But how much is it truly working?  I mean, it definitely gives mommy time to think through next steps and gives the illusion of isolation.  But is our child really internalizing what’s happening?  Or will we have to repeat this process over and over again until they turn 18 and move out and finally have an “a-ha” moment?  Or worse yet, not realize it until they have kids of their own?!?!

I have made my children apologize to their teachers.  Hugs and saying sorry to each other for what they have done.  Serve “time” in time out.  Isolation.  Taking away treats.  Writing letters to their teachers to say sorry and the reasons why.  No toys.  I’d like to think its making some sort of impact.  They seem to do well for some time after, a few hours, a day or two, before they “test” again.  My mom and dad used to be able to instill fear in me by giving me a look.  My dad would say, “If only you were boys…” to my sisters and I, and we’d shrink back in fear and vow to never do that again.  My mom would give us the silent treatment to show her disappointment, until we’d apologize and promise to never upset her and in turn, try to rebuild her trust in us.  I can’t honestly remember at what early of an age this started to click for any of us, but it happened.  Is that the best way?  Not necessarily, but it definitely worked for us.  And we’re normal.  (Or I was before kids.)

But what do you do when nothing else seems to work?  When you have tried to bargain, borrow, beg and steal (well, maybe not all of those) to get your kids to behave and nothing seems to work?  The other night, my eldest was being punished for bad behavior at school.  When asked, the reason for bad behavior couldn’t be given, and there appeared to be no remorse, so I tried to give a combination of punishments.  Isolation from the dinner table after no treats after dinner was followed by a lot of crying and “I’m sorry, mommy”‘s.  And the promise of better behavior.  That worked.  Until the next time when I will have to adjust my consequences based on what is needed at the time.  And let me tell you.  Time out just doesn’t cut it anymore.

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