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Do Time-outs Work??
Episode 14514th March 2024 • How Not to Screw Up Your Kids • Dr Maryhan
00:00:00 00:24:43

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When our child is throwing the mother of all tantrums what do we do? My advice has always been not to use ‘the naughty step’ for the simple reason that it takes a child who is experiencing some pretty big, sometimes scary emotions and isolates them. However, a 'time-out' can be used effectively when the timing is right. Let me explain...

Here are the highlights:

(01:00) Naughty steps and removal of a child can be negative if used inappropriately

(5:10) Understand the driver behind the behaviour

(6:49) Add in what your child perceives is lacking

(12:11) Work on your own big emotions

(15:04) Be super clear about difference between behaviour and character

(17:41) In the moment advice and how to use time-outs

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Hello, and welcome to the how not to screw up your kids podcast. So pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat and enjoy the conversation. This is episode 145 And today's episode, do timeouts work and tackling head on the challenge of what to do in the heat of the moment when our children make a poor choice, do timeouts or naughty step work? And if not, what are the alternatives? Now I came upon this sort of title and wanted to kind of do this, I had given a breakfast talk, and I felt this question had come up. And I felt that I hadn't really answered it particularly adequately, you know, afterwards, when you reflect on something you think I should have said this, and I could have said that, so I wanted to do a more thorough job. So here we are. Now, my advice has always been not to use the naughty step, for the simple reason that it takes a child who's experiencing some pretty big, sometimes scary feelings and emotions inside themselves, and it isolates them. Now the reality is the naughty step is not typically used nowadays, certainly in a punitive punishment kind of way. And is, in fact, more like a timeout, which I actually don't have an issue with, as long as it is used at the right time in the whole feelings a poor choice process. So let me explain. Your four year old totally loses it substitute any age here, but they totally lose it because you said no, either to something they wanted, or something that they wanted to do, or something that they were doing that is not okay. So they are throwing toys, they're screaming, they're crying, and they're not listening to anything you have to say. Now an immediate time out, removes the child from the situation which clearly diffuses the meltdown. Anyone else who's around at that time, instantaneously, you kind of move it away. Now, the meltdown might may then continue, but it is isolated to the space where the timeout happens, as well as the big sensations in their body. They're worked through on their own, as well as potentially any internal dialogue, which could turn into a sort of a bit of an internalisation that they're a bad person, we've all been there, we've all heard our child say that they're naughty, and they're bad. And for some children, it does give them an opportunity to have space to themselves, which potentially could be seen as good. When we have a delayed timeout. What happens is it gives us time to acknowledge the emotion is this whole notion of name it to tame it, when we label an emotion, whether our children do it or whether we do it for them. We take that emotion from that amygdala, primitive emotional brain, and we move it round to more of a logical problem sick solving part of our brain, our prefrontal cortex, the meltdown continues in situ, obviously, because they've not been removed from the situation. And so everyone can be pretty much trapped by it. The big sensations in our children's body and potentially internalisation, the internal dialogue monologue that occurs can then have within on hand to reassure. And also we're then able with a delayed timeout, it's an opportunity to reflect on what they may do differently next time. And it can be seen as instructive and problem solving rather than punitive. With those sort of two different examples of what happens when we do an immediate timeout. And when we do a delay timeout is my overall view is use timeouts at the right time, with the right intention, and sparingly. And I say this because the research is pretty clear. Timeout work in the short term, because what happens is in lots of ways we somewhat startle or shock the child not because we're shouting, but it sort of disrupts what's happening. And so in that moment, so it can be helpful in the short term. But the bait behaviour does return at the same rate afterwards. So it's not a method that is instructive long term. So if we want behaviours to change longer terms absolutely use timeouts in that short term because they can be really helpful, particularly when we've got a situation that's fast escalating, either with our children on their own, or whether they're siblings that are interacting in it as well. But if we really want the behaviours to change longer term, we have to adopt a longer term education and root cause piece. I'll talk you through my five top tips in terms of tackling this really just not just in the heat of the moment, but really looking at it from the whole sort of package. If nothing else, that's


fifth tip I will give you is what to do in the immediate. But for me if we want to tackle this long term, I want you to look at the whole thing. So that's what I'm going to be sharing with you today. So let's start with tip number one. Number one is really crucial that we understand the driver behind the behaviour. And particularly if we are getting the same type of behaviour on a regular basis. So obviously, if your child just has one major tantrum, one major blowout, and you just, it's very unusual to their temperament 100%, go ahead, use the timeout process, I'll share the specifics in Tip five. But more often than not that there'll be certain patterns, it may well be that our child becomes quite overwhelmed. And their default is to scream, or to shout, or to melt, melt down in terms of tears. Or it may well be that they get particularly physical. So really what we're trying to do is really think broader about how can we be instructive as well as use the timeout when we need to? So we want to try and do really understand what is what could be driving this behaviour? Is it? Is it a difficulty articulating their feelings? Is it that they don't have the language available to them to be able to express themselves? Do they feel a lack of autonomy? Is there a jealousy going on? Is their confidence being slightly issues around their competence? Is it frustration, you know, there can be so many aspects to this, that really, when we're dealing with just the timeout or just the behaviour in the moment, we're always in that situation, we're always on that back foot and always responding in that moment, rather than taking that step back. And looking at the much broader picture. And that's what that does. So one of the things that I find really helpful is to try the ABC audit for a week and the ABC is just simply a is for antecedent, B is for behaviour. C is for consequence. So if you are finding that you're getting these big outbursts, what we want to look at is a what was what was happening just before they had their big meltdown, or they had their tantrum, or they started screaming or they started pushing their sibling over, then B is the behaviour. C is the consequence. And the consequence isn't what we do to what we sort of try and instruct our child is the consequence for the choice they've made, but much more what does my child get as a result of that behaviour? So do we stop what we're doing in order to deal with it? Does their sibling react in a particular way? Do we then respond in a particular way. So we really want to think through what that might look like. Because it's that whole knowledge is power. And if we understand that sequence of what might be going on before what happened, what the consequence what our child gets from it, it helps us now it won't change how best to respond to your child in the moment. But what you may have is some supplementary work that you need to do beyond that. So clearly, there is the behaviour that our children make in that moment that we have to respond to. But if underlying all of that is a communication deficiency, or a jealousy or inability to self regulate, then we have to deal with what happens in the moment. But we also have to run concurrently with that a piece of supplementary work. So that's number one is that we really want to understand the driver. And of course, if you're anything like me, you like you hear stuff, and then you want to jump in and start trying and working on things. And of course, you can do that when I give you tip number five about how to actually manage it in the moment. But it really is worth taking that broader view, because it really helps because it means that the concurrent pieces that you do will really address the root cause. And if we're finding that timeouts are working, we want to use them sparingly. And if we can get to that root cause as well, we can get you up and running and effective much more quickly. So that's number one. Number two, then is once we've done that audit, we then need to add in or address anything, which your child may perceive as lacking. Now say this and that can be lacking within you in terms of the way that you are either in the moment, or just generally, then, or both. So that's kind of that's what we want to add in. And remember, we have to remember and I get asked about this quite a lot is this idea that, you know, we can be saying our children, I give them you know, so much time and so much attention, I don't understand. I'm saying this with love, it is not that you are not giving them time. And it's not that you're not giving them attention. But if their lens through which that they're looking on the world is my parent is spending more time with my younger sibling, or my oldest sibling, or with their work or whatever it is. We have to remember it's the lens with which our child views the world. It doesn't have to be accurate. It doesn't have to be real. It's how they perceive it. And so that's what we may need to address and that should show up in the ABC


If we've got a child who's maybe struggling with their communication, so their thought processes are there, but they're not able to articulate it, it may well be particularly with really young children, it may well be one way to address that is to come up with some signs or use sign language as way, ways for them to be able to communicate what they need. If there's a difficulty in terms of self regulation and their emotions, we may need to be adding on a piece of regular work around adding to their emotional vocabulary, talking about the toolkit, helping them understand how emotions show up in their body, if there's a jealousy piece, you've got a new young child, or you've got a child that requires more time from you, because of their needs, whatever those might be age stage of development, then again, we might need to be addressing conversations around different children needing different aspects of our time, and may be dedicating some very specific time to the child who's struggling with their big emotions as a way of helping them connect, though, is really looking at what that might be. It may well simply be that when we look at the ABC, it relates to how we're self regulating, because we're feeling overwhelmed. We're feeling like we've got 1,000,001 things that we're doing, and we're not taking care of ourselves. So the add in or the thing that we need to address is actually about our own self care. So really look at it broadly and within with that open mind. So the first one is understanding the driver behind the behaviour. The second is we add in or we address, anything which shows up from that audit, I'm super excited to announce that tickets are now live for my inaugural, it takes a village to raise a resilient adult conference, this is an in person event, and I cannot wait to meet so many of you that this conference is for you if you are a parent who wants to raise a resilient adult, if you're a teacher, an educator, a nanny, a therapist, an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent, or anyone who's invested in raising the next generation of resilient adults, head over to the website, link in the show notes where you can buy your tickets. Now, the third one is work on removing our emotions from the situation as this will stop escalating things. So if self care does not come up as the thing that you need to add in, then it is definitely something that you need to consider in step three, often, no doubt heard the term about when children become dysregulated. So when our children experience a big emotion, and it's big, and it's huge to them, because they're living their life in the present, children don't have the same ability. And particularly when they're young about this notion of delayed gratification, they want it and I want it now. And so everything that we say no to or we can't do, or whatever they might be feeling then carries a huge amount of weight, it's quite, it's really intense for them. So their emotional dysregulation and that turmoil and think about a glitter jar with glitter going all over the place and swirling around. That's how it feels when they experience a big emotion that needs to be met. By us being emotionally regulated in that moment, for as many times as we can possibly do, we are never, ever going to do it 100% of the time, because our children will always at some point. And many times, press a button trigger something in our to be in the moment when we are at our least resourceful at our least calm our most stressed. So we are going to have periods of time where we're going to shout and we're not going to respond as best we can. But I do think that we need to be mindful of addressing and removing our big feelings in that moment. And using few words, it's not about sort of being cross. But it's just about adopting an approach that tends to be much more matter of fact, and I'll talk you through how we do that in the moment so that we remove our emotion from the language that we use for our children, and that we look at their response from the lens of not the behaviour, but the emotion behind it. The you know the child that's feeling isolated the child that's feeling overwhelmed the child that's feeling in their view, neglected, overlooked doesn't have to be true. It's just simply how they're viewing it in that moment. So it's really working on removing our big emotions. And that might mean sometimes that we can we say to our children, I'm really crossed and I can't. We'll talk about this later. You know, keeping everybody cell safe, making sure that there's going to be no harm done to anyone and then returning back when we're feeling more emotionally regulated ourselves. So the first is understanding the driver behind the behaviour. The second one is adding in or addressing anything that may be lacking in that situation. The third is


Working on removing our big emotions.


The fourth one is about being super, super clear in our communication about the distinction between the behaviour and our children's character. And we'll see this as some of you will be listening to this and knowing that you have a child who will always then internalise, you know, I'm a bad person, look what I did, I've upset everyone, you know, I and for some children, that that language becomes quite extreme, I don't deserve to be here. And that's heartbreaking when our children say that. So we have to make sure that when we're having those conversations with our children, and in particularly because he these are high heat, high emotion moments, is that we really try and communicate that distinction between the choice that they made that behaviour in that moment, and who they are as a person. And we've all rent, the sorts of books that talk about, you know, you're not naughty, that was you did something naughty. I'm not massive fan of using naughty anyway as a language. But you know what, you'll get what I mean? It's simply this the choice that they made in that moment? And and I'll, I'll address that in the example that I give you. But it's really trying to make sure that we're super, super mindful. And if we haven't, if in that moment, we've lost it. And we've said things that we wish we hadn't said. And we've said something that they may interpret as part of their character rather than being isolated to the behaviour, then we can still remedy that later. You know, doesn't I think we often worry as parents that once we've said something and put it out there, that that's it, we can't unravel it? And of course, we can't unsay it. We've said it, but we can remedy it by going and having a conversation with our children afterwards, having that kind of discussion around, you know, I said, and that really wasn't what I meant. And that's a great way of modelling to our children, how we can make good how can we reflect on choices that we've made in those moments, and how we can remedy it. And that may well be an episode in itself. Let me know if you think that that's something if you're often guilt ridden about things that have happened, that you'd like to make good on, you don't always know how to do it, and particularly any specific situations, right in contact at Dr. Mary And I will then make sure that we do another episode that's just on that remedying. So that's number four, it's about being super, super clear in our communication, about the distinction between the behaviour and the choice that they made in the moment, and who they are as an individual. So they don't see that as part and parcel of who they are just a choice that they made in that moment. Number five, I want to talk you through what I would recommend that you do in in the moment and how you might then choose to use the timeout. So what we want to do is we want to acknowledge, really focus on acknowledging the emotion behind that behaviour. But there's what's that's also really good as that means that the way that we approach and speak to our child, and our behaviour is always coming from that compassionate, okay, you've made a poor choice, but the emotion is valid behind it so that you can say something a wrap around something like we can all get angry, we can all get mad when things don't go our way. But it's not alright to throw things. So we've acknowledged the emotion, we've given them a label for it. That's the name it to tame it. Yeah, yeah. But we've said, you know, but it's not alright, to throw things, you didn't make a good choice. Yep. So we've made it really clear. What it is that they haven't made a good choice we can then it's really crucial. We reassure our children that we still love them, that they're a good person. And then we allow the timeout, before we then regroup to talk about what might have been a better option to use next time, or what they might try next time. So let's not tell them that they need to use the time to think about what they what they've done, because we've already told them. Yeah, we've already told them that they made a poor choice. And we don't want to get caught in the I'm a bad person narrative. So we've explained that they that they've got angry, we all do that they've made a poor choice in that throwing. So there's, in my view, when we're talking about timeout, there is no need to send them anywhere, or children don't need to be sent to another space. We want to reassure them that they're okay. We want to help them work through the feeling if that's what they need. And then we want to remove ourself and give them no further time and attention. The timeout, in essence, is a time where there's no interaction and no attention from us, even if our children are trying to set this back in. So what a good thing to do when we're saying that we're then going to have that timeout is to be really clear that we're all having timeout


out, and that there's going to be no discussion about things until a specific agreed time. And we need to also communicate how we will let them know when that time is up. Because obviously, if we're communicating this with a really young child, they're not looking at our clock. Yep. So we might agree that timeout is when I come back in, or timeout is when I say when we sit down and have a snack, but giving them some clear marker about when they will know that that timeout. And this is all something that we need to say in advance so that when we then withdraw the speaking, when we then withdraw the the attention, we're not getting sucked into having to answer or clarify something. So we just want to say that this is what's going to happen, there'll be no conversation, in order to make sure that we all get this timeout, maybe reflect on what we might do differently.


And clarify that they understand that that's what is going to be the case, obviously, we've got to adapt and modify our language to the agent stage our child is in, we're really young children, we just simply say timeout.


And then we just don't give them any more time and attention. Older children, we can explain that there's a timeout, and it will be back time in at this marker, whatever that might be. And obviously, with even older children, we can be really specific around timings. So when it is when that time is up, we want to go back to the incident immediately and discuss options for next time. We don't want to protract this out. So it's best to we've given them the timeout because it was very specific to a specific pattern of behaviour, a poor choice that they made. So we need to revisit that so that we can then have that discussion, and then move on. So we go back to the incident immediately. We discuss options for next time in a calm, almost matter of fact, not in terms of a dismissive, but we take our emotion out of it. We don't get in this, like why do you keep doing this? And this is not not fair. Not kind and, but we're simply that there's not It's not you made it, you made a poor choice. We can feel mad, but we we just don't We don't throw things we don't push people, we don't say unkind things. How might we do things differently next time? What could you do, again, adjusting it for the age and stage of our children. So we want to reassure them that they are still loved, and then move on, revert back to play, or whatever it is that might be happening. When we look at it from the lens of these five things. We're dealing with the behaviour in that moment. And we're dealing with it in a constructive way. But we're also running alongside this education piece, which then helps our children equips and tools them up, because in essence, children don't respond in these huge tantrums indefinitely, they're doing it as a response to a feeling that they've got. And so if we're dealing with a whole package, the idea would be that we should see a shorter duration of this, these particular periods of them feeling as if they're slightly at the mercy of their big feelings. So just as a quick recap, the five are, we start by understanding the driver behind the behaviour, we then add in an address anything which may well be lacking. We work on removing our big emotions from the situation, we get super, super clear in our communication, to make that distinction between the behavioural choice and who they are as a person. And then we work through by acknowledging the emotion, the poor choice, and then administering the timeout in terms of number five. Now, my gift this week is going to be these top five in that order, because then that should help you in terms of what you need to do at the end, but also the things that we ought to be looking at in advance and running alongside for the education piece. And so that will help you as a reminder, but it also helps you in terms of annotating and practically using as well. So as usual, head over to my free resource library, Dr. Mary forward slash library where you'll find a link to download the resource. All you need to do is pop in your email address, and you'll get instant access not only to this week's resource, but all the other free resources across all my podcast episodes, as ever. If you have enjoyed this episode, I would love it and be eternally grateful if you could follow and review this podcast so that others can find us and we can spread the love. So until next time,





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