Why I Called Time On Time Outs

I am head strong, stubborn and determined. I am flaky, fickle and easily influenced. I am a perfectionist and control makes me feel safe. I am untidy, lazy and easy going. I am a stickler for rules. I don’t like reading guide books.

These are just a few of the many contradictions that afflict my personality.

Sometimes, these cacophony of traits have worked in my favour. In motherhood? Not so much.

When my daughter was born, I knew that I wanted her to be happy and healthy. Then as she grew, she started to develop freewill.

That’s when I panicked. It quickly developed into wanting her to be happy, healthy and not the kid that everyone dreads being around, or the kid that everyone stares at whilst silently judging the parents.

Freewill started to really kick in around the age of eighteen months. “Ahhh,” I thought, “she’s starting to push the boundaries. Test my tenacity. Act out. It is now my job to show her the boundaries of acceptableness and I know exactly how. Time outs.”

Here are the reasons why I used time outs:

To show her who was boss.
To show her I was in control.
To show her acceptable behaviour in society.
To show her the consequences of not doing as she was told without resorting to capital punishment.

I was excellent at it. I never gave in no matter where we were. I had perfected the technique. My perfectionism, stubborn determination and stickler for rules were working solely in my favour.

There was a slight niggling feeling in the back of my head though, that something wasn’t sitting quite right with me. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

Just before Christmas, I was getting my daughter ready for a Christmas event being held in town. I was struggling to motivate her but I’d arranged to meet friends and I really wanted to go. I managed to get her all trussed up in a Christmas outfit so we could take part in the Santa Dash. All she needed now was a scarf. I found one of mine – a silver one – perfect for her Christmas outfit. She didn’t want to wear it. It wasn’t her scarf. Her scarf was the pink one. “But the pink one clashes with her red Christmas outfit. It’ll look shit,” I thought. So I asked her sternly to just put the scarf on whilst wrapping it around her against her will. Needless to say, WW3 broke out. She was screaming. I was screaming. I was furious that SHE was making us late by not wearing the scarf that I wanted her to wear. She wasn’t listening. The only thing for it was a time out for not being compliant and not listening. So I gave her a warning. She stuck a big middle finger up to my warning so I put her on time out.

Whilst she was there – red-faced, angry, distressed, crying – I went and cried outside in the garden. I counted to ten, composed myself and went back to her. I wasn’t sorry. I was angry SHE had let it get this far.

Needless to say, my controlling, head strong determination and stubbornness meant we made it to the Santa Dash, but nobody was happy. She refused to take part and I had lost the Christmas spirit so I waved goodbye to my friends and weeped all the way home wondering why it had all gone so wrong.

I don’t think it really takes a psychologist to see how everything about that scenario was about me and nothing about my daughter. My perfectionism, stubbornness, determination and stickler for the rules had started to work against me. It had started to control me and my daughter. I had forgotten it’s purpose which was supposedly to help her become a better person.

Actually, let’s look at that again. “Not be the kid that everyone dreads being around, or the kid that everyone stares at whilst silently judging the parents” was in fact what I think I had said.

Nope, that wasn’t thinking about her. That was thinking about everybody else. This wasn’t working.

There were a few events that started to make me doubt myself. I got into an online spat with two very dear friends about my justification for the use of time outs. They were both against it and I hated being made to feel like I was doing something wrong. But the seed had been sown. My flaky, fickle and easy persuaded side was starting to sprout and shortly after, I read a couple of chapters from an Alfie Kohn book which confirmed for me that all of my own justifications for using time outs were utter bollocks.

If I truly wanted her to be happy, then stifling her when she was just expressing herself was not the way to go about it.

The major turning point though was this; her little brother. He, turns out, to have autism. No amount of perfectionism and control is ever going to change that. He is just free to become the person he wants to be because he has no idea about societal etiquette. He can’t be moulded, shaped or controlled. He just is. And I’m so jealous of him.

His outbursts are extreme but he has no way of understanding them and I have no way of explaining to him.
His meltdowns make it almost obligatory for parents to stare and judge.
He is THAT kid that parents steer their kids away from fear of him being too boisterous or a bit trigger happy with the pushing.

So that is why I called time on time outs. Because it turns out being exactly what I feared the most, isn’t actually that scary after all.

Stopping has been hard. When you have a seemingly gold standard, fool-proof way of dealing with situations that you feel out of control of, it’s very tricky not to fall on old comfortable habits. I’ve had a few slip ups. I hated myself for them because they were as pathetic as Christmas-gate. But when the time outs don’t give you the result you want, where do you go next? Smacking? I’ve been tempted and that was also part of the problem.

But whilst I can’t help my son (yet) to understand his emotions, I can help my daughter to understand hers. By giving them names so they become easier to express. I’m desperately trying not to care what other people think when they’re clearly judging my parenting whilst my son flails on the floor screaming in a pitch only a spectrum child can reach – it’s heart breaking. I’ve managed to let go of a lot of control. I’ve had to. It was useless. I have managed to bring out my more easy going side and choose my battles wisely. Ergo, deciding that there are very few battles that are ever truly ‘won’ when the opponent is a child.

The house feels calmer. It feels happier. Of course freewill is as annoying as ever but I can live with it. Probably until she hits puberty. Then I’ll perhaps just hide under my bed.

9 thoughts on “Why I Called Time On Time Outs

  1. Great post, Nicole, the book ToddlerCalm really helped me to think through toddler issues and discipline stuff, and figure out a bit how I want to approach this stuff with my daughter. Although I don’t have much knowledge of autism, the principles in that book probably still apply to some extent – e.g. trying to understand, communicate on child’s level, treat as an individual, avoiding difficult situations is OK, and showing unconditional love. All easier said than done with any child, right?!
    And by the way, some of those people staring are more than likely thinking how much they respect and admire the way you are handling things with your son, and if you ever catch me staring that’s what I am thinking!

  2. Well maybe it’s a bit like when I occasionally end up BFing my 2 year-old in public and think everyone’s looking and judging, when they probably didn’t notice or had supportive feelings towards me …? who am I kidding? they are definitely looking and thinking I am thoroughly deranged and should be locked up!!
    Ironically I saw a little boy in Tesco’s recently with a t-shirt that said something about him having autism, I think it was intended at answering those stares from people, but I didn’t want to read it properly in case they thought I was staring.

  3. So what do you do when you need to enforce a boundary with your daughter? I ask because I have a friend who has a wilful little girl, and she doesn’t believe in too many consequences and as a result the child… pretty much does whatever she wants. Clearly she is now a revolting parody of a child. What do you do to avoid this with your little one? No smacking, no time-outs, cool, explaining rationally is fine to a point, but obviously not always possible, so what then?

    1. Good question. I’m not really sure what you mean by does whatever she wants? How old is your friend’s daughter?

      My daughter didn’t really do anything ‘naughty’ to begin with. I think that was my point. I was punishing her for having angry outbursts at an age when she wouldn’t be able to do anything different. Of course she was going to react if I took the pen, she was happily drawing all over the walls with, away!

      Like I said on my FB page, this is in no way a ‘how to parent’ post. Every family makes instinctive decisions on how to deal with their own children. This is the conclusion I came to with mine.

      If your friend doesn’t have an issue with how her child is behaving and is happy with their arrangement, then I can’t see why it’s a problem.

      A great book that I read that answered all of those questions you ask, is What Every Parent Needs To Know. It’s quite a sciencey book which explains things in less namby pamby terms which suited me.

    2. I’ve been thinking about this all day and I didn’t really answer your question of what I do with my daughter to enforce a boundary. Okay, so there are many battles I don’t even bother with. She’s four years old and if she wants to go out in the rain without a coat on, that’s her call. I’ll take her coat with me knowing she’ll ask for it. I don’t say I told you so because it’s pointless. She now takes far more notice of the weather and even today, looked out the window before choosing her clothes and made sure she included a cardigan. She used her own noggin to make a considered choice based on factors that she worked out for herself, and not just because I’d always nagged her to wear a coat when it’s cold.

      However, recently we were in London. We’d had a busy day and she was clearly over tired. We were on the tube and she was swinging around the centre pole. Despite being told to calm down because she was knocking people with her hands and feet, she wouldn’t listen. So I gave her a choice: Firstly, I asked her to calm down. I told her that should more people get on the tube, I would prefer it if she sat down next to me because it’d be too busy to swing around as she had already knocked a number of people. She continued exactly as she was not listening. So I asked her again to calm down and reiterated why. This time though I advised her that should her behaviour continue I would come and get her and sit her down next to me. She continued to swing so I went and got her. She sat next to me flailing about, huffing loudly and exuberantly. People couldn’t help but snigger. I had to serious bite my lip not to join them. The flapping, flailing child continued for 20 odd minutes whilst I was trying to transfer from tube to our main train back to Devon. There were no discussions. I picked her up and carried her. No conversations. When we got on the train I told her what was going to happen. I told her I thought she was tired and that I was going to sit her on my lap so she could calm down and sleep. I told her I was sorry that she didn’t get to swing around the pole like she wanted and I was sorry she was so angry but now it was time for her to calm down and sleep. It didn’t take long for her to zonk out.

      So I suppose in answer to your question, I just take command when I instinctively think it’s necessary. In all of these occasions though there is still something else behind it, usually hunger or tiredness so nothing is really boundary pushing for control.

      I once read a quote along the lines of: to assume that a child, the instant you give it an inch is going to take a mile paints a very dim view of our children, so that’s kind of the mantra I now live by.

      Like I said though, I am working with my daughter and her particular personality. Every child is different.

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