Monthly Archives: March 2010

Consider this

I’ve been thinking a lot about time-outs recently – how over-used and ineffective they have become.  The original meaning of the word, time-out, has taken on a whole new dimension.  It used to mean take a break, refresh yourself, renew your spirit, outlook and energy. 

Now it is the punitive solution to almost all discipline problems – no matter what they are, sometimes over and over again for the same misbehavior. According to many parents I talk to, they sense time -out isn’t working for their child or for them but don’t know what to do instead.

By relying so automatically on time outs, we are omitting any focus or insights on perhaps the real cause of the misbehavior, the child’s need as well as her goal.  For all misbehavior has a goal attached.

As I was musing on this subject, I came across a poem written by a mom in Canada.  I offer it here as food for thought, encouragement, permission if you need it, to try what this mom did and see what happens.  



 Today  I took my four-year-old into my lap.   

This was his time-out.

 Time to cuddle with mommy

 And hear how much he means to me.

Not him sitting alone in a chair

Feeling as if everyone hates him

 I’m not the perfect parent.

 I yell, throw things at my kids

 And say mean stuff sometimes.

 Today my kid was acting

 Like what other people might call a brat

 Kicking his brother

Knocking over toys

And yelling at the top of his lungs

To bug us all.

 So I went over to him, lifted him up

And held him close, just us.

 I told him he is special to me

 He melted, tension flowed away.

 Center of my world

 He relaxed, aaaah…

 After a few minutes

 He jumped off my lap

And went to play quietly with his brother.

 I watched in awe.

  I finally listened to my insides

 That said children need love

 Not punishment.

To be the center of one’s world

 For just a few minutes

 In the time-out chair.

                     by Alaina Chapman, Dunster, BC, Canada

Anyone who wants to explore reasons why their child is misbehaving and sitting in far too many time-outs, let’s talk. Just call Family Resources and ask for Fran.

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Most problems are best worked on by considering both sides of the same coin. 

 This past week I spoke with three parents whose main concerns were that their children did not listen to them.  On Saturday, when I was out and about shopping and doing errands, I observed the opposite side of the coin – parents not listening to their children.

I think it’s just habit that we don’t listen to each other.  In our busy lives, there’s so much distraction going on.  Parents’ minds are full of to-do lists and our children are living in their own time zone, C.S.T. – Children’s Standard Time, life in the present moment.

That’s why a child is not paying attention to the fact that a parent is in a hurry to speed through the supermarket and needs her cooperation in order to be on time to pick up an older sibling from swimming  – even though she was told.  (she probably wasn’t listening.)

On the other hand, “Mom, look at the orange oranges all piled up.  Can we buy some?”  “Daddy, Daddy, I know what that sign says.”   Both repeated four and five times, falling on deaf ears. 

 No one’s paying attention.

I think the secret is that listening is a two-way street and it takes paying attention to each other.

When we need to have our children listen, don’t yell from two rooms away.  Go to your child, say his name or touch his shoulder, get his attention and tell him what you need to say.  Then, try asking him, “So what does Daddy need you to do right now?” to see if that might help the communication gap along.

Keep directions short, five words or less for general exchanges like “time to brush teeth”, “soup’s on”, “time to put your toys to bed”.  Be playful in your requests.  Children are magical thinkers.  Talking shoes, “Put me on” is appealing to children. “All aboard the sleepy time train” for a lift to bed. This may all seem a bit too fanciful for some of you.  But why not have fun in these moments when things need to be accomplished.  It doesn”t really take any longer and it’s a positive way to connect, as well as getting the job done.

The parents I spoke with all said “I have to yell before my child listens.  I tell him five times and by then I’ve had it.  I need him to listen.” 

 Number One rule – say it once.  We have actually trained our children to ignore us by being so willing to repeat and repeat and finally REPEAT!

We need to train ourselves to ask only once and then to gently follow through with whatever it is.  Act, don’t yak! If we are not able to follow through immediately, then wait to give a direction until you are. 

Save shouting for extreme safety emergencies – your child is running toward the busy street or playing near the hot stove.    If shouting is saved for rare occasions, your child will take notice and pay attention.

Be choosy.  Think about how many directives you are giving your child.  Select the most significant ones and drop the others.  That alone might get your child’s attention.

Be mindful of not allowing management to be the only type of communication you have with your child and the only type of listening expected from her.   So often, “get dressed, eat your breakfast, brush your teeth, put on your shoes, hurry up, let’s go, get in your car seat, don’t touch those buttons, stop kicking the seat, fill our days.  Take the time each day to look your child in the eye and talk with him and listen to him about something of interest to him.

I read of a childcare teacher who would spend a few minutes visiting with each child at rest time.  She called this talking time.  The children knew that this was their time and no one else’s.  She shared that the children would arrive in the morning,immediately inquiring, making sure, are we going to have talking time today.  Some  children would inform her that they had something to tell her, but always chose to save it for talking time.  Of course, this teacher was willing to listen throughout the day, but these children knew for certain that when it was their turn during talking time, the teacher was really listening, only to them.

A benefit of reading out loud to children is the development of listening skills.  The more children listen to stories and details, the more practice they are getting in listening.  And this shared experience gives both of you a great opportunity for meaningful and fun conversational exchange.

How come everything seems to come back to parents?  This was supposed to be about children not listening.  Because it does – and because parenting is the very hardest job there is and we are the models our children learn from.

Tell your child often, thanks for listening.  Let her hear you tell others what a good listener she is.  And give yourselves a special pat on the back for listening to your child and paying attention.

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Bundle your family

Recently I’ve been struck with how quickly, changing circumstances can throw families lives into a tail spin.  As parents, it’s very challenging to be facing a difficult life situation while also deciding how much information to share with the children, and at what point to include them.

When tension is in the air, children usually pick up on the vibes.  Often their imagination and half-overheard tidbits of conversation or emotion can conjure up a worst situation in their active little minds.  Usually if the subject has not yet been openly discussed with children, their imagined fears will come out in misbehavior, hyperactivity, clinginess and sleep disturbances.

During times such as these, it’s likely that things at home will change quite a bit.  Perhaps Mom will begin working outside the home, children may have new childcare arrangements.  One parent might have to be away from the family for an extended period of time for work or military service.   Often there’s a serious medical situation facing the family or drained finances may mean moving to a different home.

Whatever the situation, as parents, we worry immediately about how this news will affect our children.  In most cases, however, the children just wish to be part of the solution.  They want to know what will change for them, who will be there for them and what they can do to be included, even in a small way.  Sometimes this family crisis that seems so foreboding, can become a time of sharing, trust, growth and bonding that unites everyone, oldest to the youngest, in a common goal.

A good example to use to impress on children the strength of your family in getting through difficult times together is to have everyone find a stick representing themselves.  Demonstrate how with one strong snap, a single stick can be broken.  Tying all the family members’ sticks together, however, and then trying to break them is extremely hard to do.  Make up a few of these family stick bundles, tied with a ribbon for each child, to keep as a reminder of what your family can accomplish united together.

For parents, who are the ones having to make the hard decisions during this sensitive time, that’s exactly what your children are expecting from you. No apologies or guilt necessary.  If the information is shared with them with confidence and conviction, this is what our family needs to do, you will find your children responding positively.

This is not to say there isn’t adjustment, tears, fears, insecurity.  But when questions are encouraged and issues openly and frequently addressed, the children will feel embraced.

Parents, during times of stress, often forget about taking care of themselves and are reluctant to  accept support and assistance from others, choosing to keep much of this burden very private. When friends and relatives reach out, let them.  This will not only lessen your stress level but will widen both your own and your children’s circle of belonging.

To all families that are going through tough times, I salute you.  Stay strong and whole like the sticks in your family bundle and look forward to brighter days ahead.

Family Resources offers free Family Coaching and Warmlines to any one who would like to discuss how to manage disruptions in your children’s lives or any other parenting question you may have.  Just call Family Resources at 784-8125.

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I love reading recipes, as well as thinking about fixing them and, especially, about eating them.  The other day while reading a recipe for risotto, the chef wrote  ” the genius of risotto is time…not too much or too little”.

As parents, I think we’ve all experienced this delicate balancing act – not too much or too little.  We know when life takes on too much and offers too little, too many distractions, too little focus on what is essential.

All of a sudden we realize we are yelling more and our children are listening less; our children are fighting more and playing together less; we are all feeling overwhelmed, preoccupied and rushed as spouses pass each other in the chaos.

These are strong clues that we should regroup, take a break, bring ourselves and our families back to the center.

Try and pay attention to the often subtle yet sometimes in-your-face-signs that whisper or shout we need more time together  –   perhaps just with mom, dad and the children,  without other families, friends and relatives to distract.  Maybe the need exists for only you and your spouse or partner, without the children, friends or relatives.

Listen to the clues.

A parent I knew lived in a neighborhood full of children.  The afternoons were spent playing and running from one house and yard to the next.  But around 4:30 p.m., this wise mom pulled her three girls in – for what she referred to as “sister time”.  They had a sunlit family room and sometimes there was a snack and time for them to look at the stack of books from the library, color, do puzzles or some other relaxing activities.  Whatever they did during this time that became second-nature and expected,  it was the quiet and calm that brought the quiet and calm to them.

As with children, sometimes we adults need to have our focused time intentionally structured for us.  Perhaps it’s only a nightly cup of tea and some conversation with your spouse after the last child is asleep, watching a favorite TV show or DVD, sharing a laugh, standing together at your sleeping child’s bedroom door, breathing  in his  innocence  or just sitting near each other reading.

What we’re striving for is some time to notice – to feel – to pay attention – to be reminded that we are in this match together.  It’s when we slip into ignoring the very routines and activities that draw us closer, that we can lose sight of our shared purpose.

It’s easy to slip off this track that weaves in and out of our family’s daily life.  But being intentional in these cherished relationships will help keep us even and balanced, and as with a good risotto, aware of our time – not too much or too little.

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Break the cycle

I often talk to parents who are upset and exasperated.  Day care or preschool has told them their child is misbehaving.  Daily reports are sent home.  Warnings of termination are sometimes given.

The parents are beside themselves.  They discipline their child when he/she gets home – take away privileges, a favorite toy or video, send him to time out, question her why she is acting the way she is, talk constantly about the situation to others in earshot of their child, repeatedly remind him to remember to behave himself. They tell me they’ve tried everything.

Sometimes in listening to these moms and dads, I sense what a huge challenge it is for a child to break through this bad boy/bad girl cycle once it’s underway.  The expectation is there for him/her to be “bad”,  along with the label.  The negative circle seems to go round and round, fueled by the frustration of the childcare giver, teacher or even friends and the fears of the parents who so desperately want their child to behave. 

But in the efforts of all to do so – to have this child behave – it seems we are missing a vital key.  Why is the child misbehaving and how do we focus on the positive versus the negative.

I can’t stress enough that young children are not finished products who go off knowing all that they need to know and do in different situations.  They don’t automatically share, or stand and wait patiently in line, or sit and listen quietly with hands to themselves in a circle.  Some do .  Some don’t.  It often depends on temperaments, on stress, on fatigue, on readiness for what is expected.  Little boys love to wrestle and run, often when it’s not the appropriate time.  But the necessity to do this exists and we need to make sure it is met.

We need to expect misbehavior and think of it as behavior that is yet to be learned.

Think of yourself, perhaps struggling to learn a new concept in a new environment, mastering the computer or even the skills all new parents need.  Negativity and punishment would not be what would support you or help you learn and grow.  Focusing on your strengths and trust in your abilities from family, friends and co-workers is what we hope for.

It’s emotionally crushing to hear that your child is misbehaving or not following group expectations.  Our first reaction as parents is to fix it – by punishment. 

 How about trying, instead, to accept it – without fear.

A happy greeting, an eye to eye loving exchange ; later  “Wow, sounds like you had a hard time listening today.”   Then,  perhaps by leaving  a space for your child to respond, he will tell you more why he had a hard time, maybe not. 

” I bet you’ll have a better day tomorrow.”  Then leave it.

Carry on with your time together, refueling his emotional tank, making sure in your own mind that he’s getting enough sleep, not watching too much TV or videos, has routine, predictability, appropriate limits, and enough focused attention in his daily life. Manage the positive things you can control.

Send him off the next day without warnings and confusing instructions. 

 “Have a fun day” said with love and a firm belief in your child’s goodness  may be just the missing link that will restore his/her confidence, cooperation and ability to learn what it is he needs to learn. 

 If a child doesn’t know how to read, we teach.  If a child doesn’t know how to swim, we teach.   If a child doesn’t know how to multiply, we teach.  If a child doen’t know how to drive, we teach.   If a child doesn’t know how to behave,  we … teach?    punish?

  why can’t we finish the last sentence as automatically as we do the others?

                           Tom Horner (NASDE President, Counterpoint 1998, P.2)

                           Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning

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