Using time-out has become a regular disciplinary method that most parents use, but is it really effective? How many times have you put your child in time-out for misbehaving only to have him do the same thing you told him not to after he’s done with time-out? Who hasn’t struggled with making a toddler stay in time-out? You keep on putting him back but he keeps leaving the time-out space and pretty soon it’s turned into a game for him and frustration for you.
Why time-out doesn’t work
There’s actually a very good reason why time-out doesn’t work. Young children under 5 find it extremely difficult to control and regulate their feeling. So when they are asked to go to time-out and clam down they simply can’t do it. Whatever feeling your child is going through at that moment just seems too much to handle for him. He needs you to help him, he simply can’t do it alone. Another reason is that children need immediate consequences to help them learn. Prolonging punishment isn’t really going to help you emphasize your point. When a child is asked to go in his room and “think about what he’s done” that doesn’t give him any idea as to what he did wrong or what he could have done instead. Young children are still learning and exploring, everything is new to them. What might come naturally to you may be a skill your child needs to be introduced to. This doesn’t mean you should be permissive with your child and just let him do whatever he wants. Time-out can also be an effective tool when used positively.
What you can do
- Remove your child from the situation to a calm spot if he is misbehaving or is having a meltdown
- Remind your child of house rules like “no-hitting” depending on the situation
- Use time-out as a calming space and not punishment. Don’t leave your child alone in time-out and don’t associate it with something negative. Instead provide your child with support and comfort to help him recognize his feelings, listen to why he misbehaved, discuss with him why his behavior was inappropriate and explain the kind of behavior you expect from him.
- With repetition time-out can become a place for your child to regulate his feelings. Instead of threatening to send him to time-out you can enable him to use time-out to calm himself. If you start seeing signs that your child is feeling frustrated and agitated you can ask him if he needs some time-out. As your child grows older and learns to regulate his emotions on his own he can use time-out by himself.
- Don’t overuse it. Like anything else don’t resort to time-out every time your child misbehaves. Find out why your child is misbehaving or feeling frustrated and choose an appropriate solution for that specific situation.
- Distinguish between your child’s behavior and your child. Avoid using words like “stop being naughty”. Labeling your child tells him what to think of himself not his behavior. Instead explain what behavior was wrong “stop jumping on the sofa”. You want to send a message about your child’s behavior not himself to help him find an alternative and maintain his self confidence.
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Photo from Sheknows.com
Children’s misbehavior is often unintentional or has a reason behind it. A child’s natural way of learning is exploring. Everything is new for them and the one way they can figure things out is by trying. Children get a lot of feedback on their behavior by how we (adults) react. If something gets minimal attention it’s likely a child won’t do it again unless he personally enjoyed it. On the other hand, if he gets your attention then he’s figured things out! It’s the same reason we naturally clap and make a big deal when baby takes his first step or says his first word. All that encouragement tells him he’s doing something right. It also has the same effect when we react to misbehavior and say “No!”.
You’re thinking “I can’t say No??”. That’s not what I’m saying. Using “No” is an effective way to immedietly get your child’s attention and have him stop what he’s doing..for a minute..then what? Let’s think of this from your child’s perspective; he’s banging with the spoon on the table. It’s a new experience and the sound is interesting and he’s doing something. Here comes Mommy, I’ll show her what I can do…Bang! Bang!…I’ve got her attention now! Naturally you reaction is to stop that annoying banging, anyone would do the same. You say “No banging with the spoon!”. He stops for a second, looks at you with his spoon midair, it looks like he got the message but a second later he’s at it again.
Why “No” alone doesn’t work
While “No” sends a message to your child to stop, it doesn’t tell him what to do instead. This is where redirection comes in handy. Even after you’ve told your child to stop banging the spoon, he’s still interested in doing that. Show him what he can do instead. Swap the spoon for something with a soft top or show him how to bang on something less.
Using redirection once doesn’t mean your child will get the message right away. Keep at it and redirect several times. Children learn through repetition and patterns. The more consistent his experience is, the more he’ll understand what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.
How to redirect
It all depends on what you are distracting your child from. If your child is doing something that can harm him you have to be firm and remove him immediately. Safety comes first. However, in everyday safe situations you can gently redirect your child to a more appropriate activity.
- Speak to your child in a calm voice. Like we said, giving too much attention will only reinforce the unwanted behavior
- Give your child an acceptable alternative immediately
- Offer choices. This can help your child accept the new option. Limit choices to two acceptable options to make it easier for your child.
- Model acceptable behavior. If you don’t want your child throwing things then think twice about tossing your keys, the TV remote or a pillow at your spouse. Watching and learning is one of the key ways children lean about social interaction.
- Remember, don’t use food as a reward or distraction. Food is a basic and necessary part of our lives which children should learn to use in a healthy manner. Avoid using it as a form of emotional replacement or an alternative activity.
Remember that each child is different. What works with your friend’s child may not work with yours. Your child is unique so try to find out what he enjoys so you can redirect him to an acceptable activity that will match his interests.
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Photo Thanks to Mariam El Mofty Photography
My second article in the Positive Parenting series I am writing for SuperMama. You can find it on their website in English and Arabic
As part of taking a positive approach towards parenting we previously discussed understanding your toddlers’ temperament. In this article, we follow the same approach and why try to understand our toddler’s impulse control; in other words, why toddlers can’t seem to stop themselves.
What is impulse control?
Even though it may seem at times that your child doesn’t listen to a word you say, remember that your child isn’t out to get you. If you sometimes feel that your child just can’t seem to control his actions, you’re probably right but it’s for a good reason! That’s because at this young age your child is still beginning to develop impulse control, which is a person’s ability to suppress or restrain himself from doing something, like concentrating on your work while shutting out distractions. It also includes the concept of delayed gratification which is the ability to wait in order to get something you want.
Why do toddlers seem to lose control and “not listen”?
As a parent you may be thinking that your toddler has difficulty restraining himself or waiting for things and you have a point! That’s because these abilities depend on a part of the brain called the frontal lobes, which develop slower than other parts of the brain. By age two development is underway but won’t be well developed till age 7, some reports even state that it continues to it’s mature form by the age of 21.
As a toddler, your child is struggling to control his emotions and actions. Lack of impulse control is what causes your child to reach for the remote yet again even though you already said “No” several times. It’s when your child persists to want the cookie NOW! And when emotions become too hard to handle and result in tantrums. Understanding what your child is and isn’t capable of can help you have appropriate expectations and result in fewer situations of conflict between you and your child.
So why is impulse control important?
Won’t most children outgrown this phase? Yes, most children will, however the quality and their ability to regulate their emotions and actions depends largely on their experiences as young children. It’s the difference in early experiences that will result in developmental differences later in life. A classic study called the Marshmallow Test was conducted where 4-year olds were asked to stay in a room for a few minutes with a marshmallow and not eat it. They were told if they didn’t eat it by the time the observer came back, they would get the marshmallow in addition to another one. Of course, some children ended up eating the whole thing as soon as the observer left and never looked back. However, there were those who waited and got them both. The interesting part is that years later researchers caught up with the same group of children, who were now in their teens. Surprisingly, those who had controlled themselves and waited as children were more self-confident, popular among peers, able to cope better with frustration and more successful in school than those who ate the marshmallow straight away.
What You Can Do:
- Set few clear rules: The more things are off-limits the more likely your child will end up misbehaving. Constantly saying “No” decreases it’s effectiveness when you really need to use it. Try to select few clear rules that cover safety and will allow your child to play and explore at the same time.
- Provide an appropriate environment:Now that you know why your child sometimes has difficulty controlling his impulses make sure your setting is child friendly. Put objects you don’t want him to touch out of reach and bring along a story or box of crayons when going out to give your child age appropriate alternatives.
- Remind him of the rules: Don’t anticipate misbehavior but remind your child positively about what is expected of him in certain situations. For example, explaining that she can help you find the items in the supermarket but no running down the aisle. This way you positively redirect your child and give her an alternative.
- Practice turn taking: Whether it’s with you or a sibling, encourage your child to wait for his turn. This will help foster impulse control as your child eventually learns to trust the situation and that he will get his turn. Remember to always follow through or give an honest explanation if you can’t.
- Play games that take time: Doing puzzles or using building blocks can help your child learn patience as she works to reach her desired goal.
I hope this article helps you understand your child’s developmental abilities to control his impulse. Remember that when your child feels overwhelmed, sometimes comfort is more effective than correction.
Bright from the Start by Jill Stamm
This article was featured in Mother&Child in English and Arabic
One of the things I’m most passionate about is helping parents communicate with their child. I realize it can be frustrating sometimes when you say things over and over again and your child ” just doesn’t listen!”. Your child is listening, his brain at this stage just works differently than yours. As adults we usually expect children to fit into our schedules, lives and world. Children are people too and sometimes we have to make changes in ourselves to accommodate our kids!
Some Things you Need to Know
- You need to realize that children are different, even your own! Each child has a different personality and temperament which is apparent from birth. There is no “one rule fits all”. As parents, you need to look at your child(ren) and adapt what works best with his character.
- Your toddler or 3-year-old isn’t out to get you! It may seem that your child “just isn’t listening“, however you should know that at this age impulse control is still a developing skill and is very difficult for your child to control. That’s because the part in the brain (frontal lobes) necessary for controlling impulse is still developing and will not be well developed till age 7.
- Take time to reflect on your parenting strategy; how is your current communication with your child? do you find your self saying “No” and yelling more than you would like?
How to Communicate Positively and Effectively
- Get down to your child’s eye level. This makes it easier to get and maintain your child’s attention. Most likely when you’re shouting out something overhead your child will have completely missed that you’re talking to him.
- Give your child a chance to explain and listen. If your child has misbehaved give him a chance to explain before jumping to conclusions. If your child doesn’t have the words to express himself you can supply him with short yes/no questions to understand what happened. Restate what you understood back to your child in short clear sentences to avoid misunderstanding. By taking his feelings seriously you’re showing him you care about his point of view and that his thoughts matter.
- Avoid feelings of guilt or shame. At this age children are very sensitive of their actions. It may seem easy to shame your child into doing something “you make a mess every time you feed yourself, I’ll do it for you!” but this strategy may cause feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy in your child which may last into adulthood. Instead, try to offer help when in a difficult situation. Asking your child if you can assist instead of immediately taking over shows you respect his independence and less conflict is likely to occur.
- Express yourself and offer alternatives. Use sentences that express how you feel. “I can’t read the paper when you crumble the pages. You can get your story and read next to me”. This way you’re expressing yourself positively and sending a clear message to your child. At the same time you are offering an alternative which will redirect your child to an activity that is appropriate for the moment.
- Be ready to compromise. Your child has his own thoughts and ideas and may not be willing to say “Yes” every time you suggest something. Allow your child to state alternatives. Discuss that with him if you feel they aren’t possible or safe . Ask him what he thinks of his proposal? Does it fit with your household rules? Is it possible? How? If not then propose another solution. It may seem like a lot for a 3 year old but your child may surprise you! It’s a win-win scenario. Your child will use these negotiation skills for a lifetime.
- Involve your child. When new situations occur try involving your child in coming up with a new rule or solution. It’s more likely your child will understand the reason for the rule and stick to it if he is more involved. He will also be more willing to accept consequences for misbehavior. You are also helping create an independent and responsible adult.
- Offer Choices. Your toddler is going through a stage of independence and may become stubborn when you propose something. Giving your child choices fosters that feeling of independence and enables your child to make decisions. “You can have your bath now or after dinner”, “Do you want your blue T-shirt or the red one?”. Try to limit choices to just two items at this stage to avoid confusion.
To Avoid Miscommunication & Misbehavior
- Set few clear rules. The more things are off-limits the more likely your child will end up misbehaving. Saying “No” all the time takes away from it’s effectiveness when you really mean it. Try to select few clear rules that cover safety and will allow your child to explore at the same time. Involve your child and use negotiation and compromise when you encounter a new situation.
- Provide an appropriate environment. Now that you know why your child sometimes has difficulty controlling his impulses make sure your setting is child friendly. Put away tempting objects and bring along a story or box of crayons when going out to give your child age appropriate alternatives.
- Label Feelings. Children often act out or misbehave because they still can’t express themselves or label how they feel. Use daily opportunities of crying, laughing, screaming, etc to label how you and your child feel. Singing and reading about feelings is another great way.
- Try to avoid power struggles. It may be easy now to just give an order instead of taking the time to communicate and negotiate, but remember your child will soon grow into a teenager then an adult and the bond you create now can last a life time. Investing in these early years will help you both in your child’s rebellious teenage years and hopefully create a bond of friendship between you.
I hope this post give you some positive and practical ways to effectively communicate with your children. Please feel free to join the discussion or drop me a line if you have any comments or questions.
Photo By Mariam El Mofty www.mariamelmofty.com
This article was featured in Mother and Child magazine in English and Arabic
Almost every parent has been in this situation: you’re at the supermarket or a public place and your toddler or 3 year old is screaming and kicking on the floor! You’re wondering what happened and how do I handle this?? Most parents either resort to threatening their child to start behaving properly or they pick him up and rush out, but how effective are these methods and how long does the effect last? What is the most effective way to handling your toddler’s tantrum?
Reasons for Tantrums
First of all, handling a tantrum happens way before it actually happens. To start with, you must make sure your child’s basic needs are being met. A hungry or tired child is more likely to be more irritable than an energetic and satisfied one.
Next is understanding why your child is having a tantrum. At this age your child is having trouble controlling her impulses, she is also going through a phase where she is developing her sense of autonomy and physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive abilities. This can sometimes be hard to handle and overwhelming. She may feel a need to do things on her own but her body isn’t developed yet to support that. For example, putting on shoes or expressing herself verbally. These situations can be frustrating due to an inability to identify her feelings and express herself.
You should also keep in mind that lack of impulse control can play a huge factor in your child’s ability to control herself. The areas in the brain responsible for inhibitory skills as impulse control and delaying gratification (when your child persists to want the cookie NOW!) matures more slowly than other parts of the brain. By age 2, it’s development has started but won’t be well developed till about age 7.
Another reason for having a tantrum may be using it as a way to get attention. Reflect on your parenting strategy to decide this; do you respond positively when your child is not misbehaving? do you spend a significant amount of time correcting misbehavior? If so, your child may have learnt to get your attention through misbehavior.
Your child at this age is still developing the ability to share and negotiate. That’s why he may also resort to tantrums if he is refused something or another child is refusing to share or give a toy.
What You Can Do to Avoid Tantrums
With just a bit of forward thinking you can help your child avoid tantrums.
Make sure you provide an appropriate environment for your child; make sure your setting is child-friendly or bring along entertainment for your child (a simple box of crayons would do), check if your child will miss a meal or nap time while your out and make sure to provide an alternative. If you are going shopping, involve your child in finding items or counting them.
Foster your child’s autonomy and independence by giving choices and offer control. You can give choices in everyday situations like getting dressed, eating or bath time. Limit the options to two or three to avoid overwhelming your child. Also, try to avoid “Yes/No” choices. Instead, offer options like “will you wear your green or red t-shirt?” or “will you have your bath now or after dinner?”.
You can offer your child a feeling of control by letting her do things for herself; let her try to put her shoes on or try to feed herself. Remember to respect your child when you try to help. She will be more willing to accept your help if you ask “do you need help?” instead of rushing in silently and taking over what she is doing.
Realize your child’s developmental abilities to control his impulse and try to avoid temptations that may cause conflict. Remember that when your child feels overwhelmed comfort is more effective than correction.
Try to avoid confusing a real need for comfort with a way to get your attention. Only you as a parent can know your child well enough to identify when she is truly in distress or not. To avoid negative attention you can focus your attention on your child’s positive actions, try to minimize when you say “No” and use it only for few and important situations like standing on the sofa or touching the oven and ultimately ignore unwanted behavior if you realize it’s your child’s way of getting your attention (as long as your child is in a safe setting).
You can help your child identify feelings and express herself by using everyday situations to label feelings. When your child is crying or laughing use these as opportunities to point out and label how she’s feeling, just by saying “I know you feel sad” you are giving your child the words to identify how she feels. A great way to learn about feelings is singing.
At this age your child hasn’t developed the ability to share yet. Try to realize your child’s developmental abilities, most children develop this ability at around age 3. Don’t expect your 18 month old to share! By giving your child a secure and predictable environment you can help foster skills like sharing. Be consistent and follow through. By saying “you’ll get your turn” and consistently following through, your child learns to trust you, develops an ability to delay gratification and learns turn taking.
How to Handle a Tantrum?
So a tantrum was unavoidable, that’s O.K! Remember that your child is a person with feelings that can become overwhelming sometimes.At this moment he needs support and comfort delivered in a positive way.
- First, start with your self: As long as your child is safe, give your self a couple of seconds to look at the situation and approach it calmly. Remember to stay calm, you will really see the difference in your child’s response.
- Give comfort and love: hold your child and speak to her calmly and slowly. Tell her you understand she is feeling sad.
- Redirect her: Once you get her attention, try to calmly divert her to something else. Remember to stay calm and avoid being nervous or anxious.
- “Time-out”: If your child is still feeling frustrated, removing her from the situation may help. Take her to a calmer area and redirect her to a quiet activity like singing or reading a story. Once your child is calm you can bring her back to the play area.
- Ignore: Remember that some tantrums are ways of getting attention negatively. Try to ignore this type of behavior. By ignoring you are showing your child that this is not the way to get your attention. Remember to give attention to positive behavior, that way you show your child an alternative.
I hope you find this article practical and useful. 🙂 For some more information on temper tantrums go here
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