cartoon cow writing at a desk

Time Outs Work (3.31.16)

I don’t remember what my parents did to my brother and me as children, but we were always obedient children. My parents were raised during the “children are to be seen and not heard” generation. I guess my brother and I were the “obedient” generation. I remember the rare occasion of fearing my father’s swipe of his hand while he was driving the car during my brother’s and my fights in the back seat about “crossing the line.” Although I may have been an obedient child, I feel like this mysterious form of discipline also took part of my voice away.

When my oldest daughter Ashlee was still in diapers, I felt so angry about her not following a direction, I hit her on her rear end. I felt mortified about that action, because that contact left my handprint on her tiny little hind part through her diaper!! I decided then and there that I would never hit my children to discipline them. (There was one other incident called “The Swipe” that I will share at the end of this article.)

I don’t know where I learned about time outs, because typically I do not research things. Somewhere, somehow, I learned to put a child in a time out based on how old they are. If they are 2 years old, they get a 2 minute time out. If the child is 3 years old, they get a 3 minute time out, and so forth. Our children do their time outs in their bedrooms. Our kids do not have televisions or telephones in their bedrooms and they are not allowed to have their iPads in the room during the time out. The goal of the time out is for the child to think about their behavior and figure out a way to avoid future time outs. Maybe they’re really thinking about how much they hate me or their sisters during that time. Essentially, the time out removes the child from negative behavior and breaks the escalating pattern of negativity.

If the children challenge me to go to their rooms, I give them warnings and say, “If you do not get in your room now (or sometimes I’ll say by the time I count to 10), your time out will increase by 5 minutes.” If they roll their eyes at me, continue to say negative things, or continue to fight with their opponent, the time out time period increases in 5 minute increments. Each child is different based on their unique personalities and the developmental stage that they are in. One time Ashlee ended up in a 60 minute time out because of consistent negative behavior and continuously challenging me, but she is also a teenager. You have to manage each child based on how they are wired. As the children grow they will challenge you more. My goal is to stay centered, focused, and be consistent. No discipline is 100% fair 100% of the time especially when you are dealing with 2-3 children fighting at one time. I do the best that I can during each situation.

As the children have gotten older and if their behaviors are off the chart from fighting, I will warn them that if they do not stop fighting, they will all be receiving 30 minute time outs. We begin with 30 minute time outs and work our way up to more time if the negativity continues to escalate. It may take me multiple efforts to get the wild cats into their rooms, but once they are there, they simmer down and return to “normal.”

I also have to be aware of my own behavior while delivering time outs as a consequence. If I’m tired, stressed, angry, or hormonal during the kids’ challenging behaviors, my mental state may affect the time outs. Throughout the years, I have discussed and warned my children about my “I’m Not in a Good Place” moments. In other words, don’t mess with mama bear when she’s angry, sleep deprived, or short tempered. If I had fair warning like that as a child, I would steer clear of my mother’s wrath. I’m constantly surprised that my kids are willing to experience the wrath of mama bear during those moments. It’s not pretty, but sometimes it happens. And by wrath I mean raising my voice and/or yelling to get them to move and get into their bedrooms.

We’re going to have conflict, because that is part of human behavior and human interactions. It’s how you manage that conflict and how you set guidelines that is important. My kids are passionate about expressing themselves and that is ultimately what I am trying to teach them. I want them to have a voice, but I also want them to respect other people. For me, time outs work.

“The Swipe”

When my children were younger I made an executive decision to not take the kids shopping unless absolutely necessary. I don’t like to shop and I don’t like to run errands. If I had to run out for anything, I would work around my husband’s schedule and leave the kids with him as needed.

Ashlee was invited to a birthday party during first grade (she’s our only child that attended 2 years of formal schooling which is another story) and I naively thought it would be wonderful if she selected the birthday gift for her classmate. I took all three of our daughters to a small independent toy store to select the perfect gift within our allotted budget. I was not planning or willing to buy them any toys during this trip. Bad decision – really bad decision.

I don’t remember peeling three whining young children (ages 6, 4, and 2) out of the toy store with only one gift for the birthday recipient, but it must have been hell. I tried to get the whining creatures across the parking lot and into the van and they continued to melt down crying about the horrific injustice of the experience. How dare you not buy ME a toy (or toys)!!! I tried to get Ashlee into the back row of the van while securing Rachel and Rosalina into their respective car seats in the second row. The kids were crying, tears flowing, more whining, tears gushing down their faces – essentially three major meltdowns times ten at the same time. The kids were asserting themselves about the awful injustice created by me – their heartless mother. Besides the turmoil of emotions I was feeling in the moment, I was also feeling embarrassed about not being able to “manage” my children in public. I snapped. I swung at Ashlee’s torso to get her into the back of the van while I was fighting to buckle Rosalina into her car seat while Rachel was melting down in her car seat. Ashlee ducked into my swat and my long fingernails scraped her face between her left eye and the bridge of her nose. I was mortified. It looked like I had clawed my precious child. Not one scrape, but four long red lines swiped across her skin near her eye. Holy shit! I felt awful and apologized to Ashlee and never wanted to feel or experience that type of moment again. Once everyone calmed down and we got home, I was very concerned about how Ashlee was going to handle comments about these marks on her face during school the next day. I was also concerned that the school may report this injury and our family to child protective services. I never heard anything from the teacher or the school. Ashlee never articulated any information to us about anything during school on a normal day, therefore I do not know how this experience may have affected her. The bottom line is that I learned two more parenting lessons the hard way – never hit my children out of anger or stress and do not take the children to a toy store with that type of strategy. The end.

P.S. I tell Ashlee that she is my trailblazer. She is the oldest child in our family and I have to learn some difficult lessons about parenting with her assistance. God bless first born children.