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By Janeen Hayward, BCB Expert, Principal, Swellbeing
Many of the leading experts in child development agree that a child who is unregulated (acting out, tantrums) is a child who needs our help. Their most primitive brain, the brainstem, has been hijacked. This is the part of the brain responsible for the fight/flight/freeze/faint response to any threat or stressor. When any of us are in an unregulated state of hyper/hypo arousal, we are not open to learning. Thus, the first step in positive discipline is to engage with our child to help them through the difficult feeling(s) they are grappling with in the moment. This is precisely where a time-in comes into play.
Let’s back up a few decades. The “old paradigm” way to deal with children who were acting out was to send them to a time out (or dole out some other punishment to “teach a lesson”). The problem with that solution is that it doesn’t deal with the root cause of the problem. Children become dysregulated for a few main reasons: unmet needs (sleep, food, pain); feeling disconnected (separation for school/work/daycare); big feelings (jealous, angry, sad, frustrated); stress (absorbing ours, expectations are too high). When we attend to the feeling (or need) first, a child moves into a receptive state of learning. At that point you can appeal to the “upstairs” brain, which is responsible for such things as making good decisions. A child who is met with shaming or punishment generally stays stuck in the downstairs brain and, rather than ponder what got them there in the first place, children instead form beliefs about themselves, their loved ones and the world at large (My parents don’t like me, I must be a bad boy/girl) and often adopt a vengeful attitude toward the person who put them in time out. Conversely, a child who goes to time in will see that a place to regain their composure and connection with their loved one. Only at that point are they able to take the perspective of another person and begin to reflect on their behaviors/choices and consider how they might make reparations.
Often in my work parents have questions about what a time in actually looks like. A time in (or love chair, take a break spot) should be located in a neutral place in your home. A child’s bedroom is not a good choice. The time in spot should be stocked with tools to help your child(ren) calm down. Those items may include paper and markers to draw their feelings, headphones to block out noise, calming music, stress balls, etc. Let your child co-create this space with you at a time when things are going well. Make this a space that is used by everyone in the family so you can model using this as an effective tool. The next time your kiddo flips his lid, consider taking him to the “take a break chair” and work on empathizing with what’s going on first.
Let us know if you’ve tried this and how time ins are working for your family!
Janeen Hayward is the Principal of Swellbeing, a complete parenting resource. Swellbeing specializes in smart solutions and sympathetic support for modern parents—and their kids. Simply put, they’re the missing manual to parenthood.For more information visit Janeen’s blog where she writes about parenting topics on a regular basis. Janeen regularly speaks at Bump Club and Beyond events on sleep, positive discipline, potty training, preparing for a second sibling and more.