How to Apply Time-out In Your Home (continued)
Sample Family Challenges in Implementing Time-out (continued)
When my children are bickering and I send them to time-out, they each start blaming the other and telling me it’s unfair to be sent when the other is at fault. What do I do?
What you are describing is likely just an extension of the way the children relate in other circumstances, probably including those that lead you to send them to time-out. Clearly, the children are treating time-out as a punishment, and this negative flavor undermines the effectiveness of the technique.
Tell your children again that you send them to time-out to assist them in calming when they seem unable to relate appropriately to each other on their own. Add that you are not interested in who started or did what but rather in doing your part when it is hard for them to work things out themselves. Your children may not really believe you, particularly if you have typically engaged in debates about who is at fault. To break the old pattern, stay away from that issue and restate that each of them is responsible to regain calm. Over time each child will come to recognize the advantages of regaining calm sooner rather than later and rather than arguing. Be prepared for one child to get the message more quickly than the other, a problem addressed in a previous example. Of course, it is also important that you separate the children while they are in time-out and that you have them as far out of earshot of each other as your home allows.
Since we have been sending our son to time-out instead of yelling at him, he has started saying insulting things, and that simply isn’t acceptable. What do we do about this?
This unsettling behavior represents a direct test of your overall program since anything you do in response to this provocation carries the risk of reinforcing the very behavior of which you disapprove. Remind yourself that however hateful sounding the child’s comments are, he is still the son you love, and he loves you – though at the moment he almost surely isn’t feeling it. It is equally certain that anything you say to him when he is insulting you will give him a sense of satisfaction and thereby make him more likely to do it again. Since this sounds like a power struggle, a review of the discussion about control struggles in Chapter 4 might be useful.
Beyond that, make sure that you are calm when you send your son to time-out so that you are in no way modeling his negative reactions. Once he is in the quiet place, “turn yourself on robot,” in the process withdrawing your emotions from the child for the moment. You can think about where you wish you were, fantasize about your ideal vacation, or whatever, so that you aren’t attending to the child’s comments. If you do not respond, the child almost certainly will run down and eventually will stop, allowing him to calm more completely. Once that happens, you will have the opportunity to reinforce him for being calm.
I urge you, though, to stifle your likely inclination to lay a huge lecture on him at that point. By giving in to that urge, you would alert the child to how reactive you really are to his tirades. That is the opposite of what you want him to learn, which is that regaining his composure more quickly will meet his needs best. Be prepared for this pattern to repeat itself a number of times since it likely has been heavily learned, but over time you may well find both the intensity of the reactions and how long they last will diminish noticeably. At that point you’ll be able to congratulate yourself for lovingly assisting your child to responsible behavior in the face of substantial challenge.