Perhaps the reason teens isolate themselves when they’re overwhelmed instead of coming to us for help with their problems is because when they’re toddlers we isolate them when they’re overwhelmed instead of helping them with their problems.   –L.R. Knost

The Child: “You’re the worst parent ever! I hate this food! I wish I lived at Emily’s house! Her parents aren’t meanies like you!”

The Parent: “You do not act this way, and you know it.” “Go stand in the corner.” “Go to your room.” “Go run around the house until you get rid of those feelings.”  “You obviously need some time by yourself to think about the choices you are making.”

Do exchanges like this ever happen in your house? We used to have lots of them. Time-outs are a staple strategy for many parents. Many of us grew up with them, and a time-out seems like a logical way to diffuse situations. Diffusion wasn’t happening in our home, though.  In fact, time-outs often seemed to escalate behaviors rather than de-escalate them. Our lack of success was frustrating and infuriating.

Why were time-outs, a strategy that many parents seem to find effective, causing such issues with our children who were in foster care?

In retrospect, the answer is fairly clear. Kids from hard places, including kids adopted at birth, have deep-seated feelings of fear and shame because of the harm and abandonment they have experienced. A shame or fear-based punishment, like a time-out, pushes them deeper into those isolating feelings.
With that in mind, I can begin to understand how demoralizing, and even scary, punishments must feel to my kiddos.  No wonder they weren’t receiving them well.

Although I was administering time-outs with the best of intentions, my action showed that I was not emotionally safe. I was creating a “me vs you” power struggle and sending an unintentional message of conditional acceptance. “Dear child, I only want you near me when you are doing well. When you’re struggling, you aren’t welcome here. I don’t know what else to do with you but send you away.  Go fix yourself, and then come try again.”

Does that message promote trust and connection?

It is powerful for our children to know that they are loved and adored even in the midst of their worst behaviors. -Dr. Purvis 

We all need a relational alternative to the “time-out.”

Let’s face it. We’re relational beings, and in the midst of our big behaviors, we need to be drawn in close, not sent away.  By removing our kids away from our presence, we waste a valuable opportunity to proactively teach mercy, grace, and collaboration. When we are at our worst and feel like failures, we need someone to step in and say, “I love you. You’re precious. Let’s figure this problem out together.”

Thankfully there is a great alternative that lets us give our kids what they truly need, and correct them at the same time. It’s called a time-in and, although it takes a while to get the hang of, it can dramatically change your home.  It sure changed ours.

Check out this short blog for an excellent introduction.

And listen to Dr. Purvis explain below.

*There is no way to succinctly explain these tools in a blog. Reach out to us or start diving into the resources below to explore connected parenting further.

Additional Resources:

Foster/Adoptive Parents: The Connected Child;  The Body Keeps Score;

All Parents: No Drama Discipline; The Whole Brain Child; Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids;

For family coaching and consulting, contact us:  Village To Village Parent Coaching