I’ve just seen this doing the rounds on Facebook, and I love it.
I love it for two reasons.
Firstly, because a time out is exactly what parents need sometimes. And a time out that feels like a treat, like something special, is just what our overwhelmed, stressed out selves need to regroup.
I’m not (necessarily) advocating getting drunk to cope with parenting. But I want to emphasise the concept that a time out for a parent should consist of something that that parent likes! And that helps that parent to feel restored and revitalised.
Time out should FEEL GOOD!
And the second reason I like this picture, is because the idea of time out being a chance for a treat, can be equally applied to children as it is to their parents.
Children (just like us adults) act out when they are overwhelmed.
Think about the moments that you snap at your partner? Are you tired? Hungry? Feeling unappreciated? Facing unrealistic expectations? Still processing a stressful day at work?
We act out when we are overloaded and overwhelmed, and our children are exactly the same. Every time there is some seemingly purposeful negative behaviour from our child, have a think as to what the underlying reason might be.
I have a list of five things that seem to be at the heart of every single problem behaviour I see in my kids:
Number One - They have an unmet basic need
They are cold, tired, hungry, thirsty, need a poo (does your 5 year old suddenly go nuts just before they take themselves off to the loo?), unwell, understimulated, overstimulated etc.
This is like when you find yourself snapping in response to being asked the thousandth question in a row when you’ve only eaten toddler leftovers all day and you actually really really need to go for a pee.
Number Two - Our expectation of them is unrealistic
Like expecting your three year old to be able to sit quietly for a long family meal where nobody is talking to them, and they have ENERGY to burn off? Cue the cutlery throwing/ketchup smearing/shrieking etc etc.
Maybe you would want to do this when you’ve just been asked to provide a five course meal for your in-laws after a full on day at work, when nobody else has even thought to do the shopping for it or tidy the kitchen while you were gone. Want to throw cutlery? I would!
Number Three - They don't know what is expected of them
You never properly explained the expectation to your child. Does she actually know that when she leaves her friend’s house she has to leave the toys she was playing with behind? Or has this come as a massive shock to her? She might not have had enough playdates to have worked out the rules of who owns what yet, and how this whole toy sharing/visiting friends thing works.
Have you ever felt that awful hot feeling of realising that something you thought was ok is actually not ok at all?
I remember picking wonderfully ripe delicious plums in a garden and eating them merrily before being told that these were not supposed to be picked, and were being saved for some competition. I felt terrible!
Number Four - They are dealing with an unprocessed emotional upset
Either they are feeling something right now, or something happened this morning (or this week, or this year, or this lifetime) that upset them, and they haven’t had a chance to deal with it. Maybe someone snatched a toy from them. Or they felt unfairly treated at school. Or left out by a friend. Or you were busy with the new baby just when they wanted a cuddle.
Our emotions massively affect how our brains are able to behave, with a big enough dose of emotion causing our rational brain to go offline altogether, and instead leaving us at the mercy of our stress response - that fight, flight, freeze response. This is why we yell at our kids when we suddenly couldn't find them in the playground - the big dose of sheer terror that we've lost our child comes bursting out as anger towards our child when we then find them. Pretty irrational hey?
And our emotions don't have to be current to affect us. If we didn't get a chance to process emotions from earlier, then they can still pop back up to send us into fight/flight/freeze mode much later on.
This is like when your stress at work spills over into your evening at home with your partner. The day of dealing with difficult clients has you coming home and playing out the arguments you couldn’t have at work with your family instead.
Number Five - They feel disconnected from you
They feel disconnected from you. They don’t want to do what you ask, and their automatic response to any request is ‘NO!’
Think about how you and your partner help each other out when you are getting on. When you feel connected, supported, recognised, understood. Doing things to help each other feels great in these moments doesn’t it?
But when you are feeling unappreciated, resentful, as if you are doing more than your fair share already? Well, suddenly you don’t feel like doing things to help the other one so much.
Those are my five reasons. And I don’t actually think there are any other reasons. If you can think of others, please stick them in the comments and let me know!
Now, for each of those five situations for you, what do you think would help you feel better? Would help you feel less ratty, less snappy, more like being helpful and loving again?
Would punishing you help?
Would a time out where you are left alone to ‘think about your attitude’ help you feel happy and calm again? I think I’d probably just keep working myself up into more of a stew going over the unfairness of it all in my head!
But what about a time out like the chair in the picture. Where you have your favourite things around you, and feel just a little spoilt? Might a bit of time soaking that feeling up help you feel restored and ready to engage with the world again?
Now what about your kids?
Look at each of those situations again, and have a think about whether punishing them would help them.
And if punishing isn’t going to work, what could work instead?
How about a timeout for them that feels good? That feels like a treat? Cuddles, some stories, songs or silly games? Time for you to fully concentrate on them and load them up with love? Time to restore some of that connection and give them a chance to process some of those emotional upsets from earlier? Give them a moment to calm down and notice their own underlying hunger and eat the snack you’ve left out for them?
Give it a try and see what happens. I think you’ll like the results!
By Alexandra Harris, CalmFamily Hampshire
For more on what is going on in your toddler’s brains, and how to support them, have a look at https://www.calmfamily.org/. Go to find a class to see what is running local to you.
And for those of you in Hampshire, come to https://www.calmfamily.org/alexandra-harris.html
I have classes arranged with spaces available to book today!