As we get close to the end of the “good ideas and bad ones” section of this blog, I’d like to share two good behavior strategies I’ve picked up over the years. One I learned from parents far more experienced and wiser than me, and the other one I’m pretty sure I made up.
Note: If you read the second one and think, “You didn’t make that up. I told you,” please don’t take it personally. I have a lousy memory. Also, please don’t sue me.
The strategy I learned from my betters is the time-in. This is a variation of the famous time-out, or, as those of us of a certain age might remember it, “Go to your room.” (Or, as Dennis the Menace remembers it, “Go sit in the corner.”) For those of you raised by peaceniks or spankers, the time-out concept is simple: If you keep jumping off the couch or teasing the dog or hitting your sister, etc. after being told to stop—usually after a warning or two—you take a time-out. This usually involves going to your room, or the corner, or a separate room and sitting in a designated space for a designated time—one minute, 5 minutes, the rest of the day. For kids of a certain age, sitting for 5 minutes feels like the rest of their life, so you have to gauge accordingly.
Both during my AASK trainings and in dealing with a few child therapists, the recommendation was instead for a time-in. A time-in works exactly the same as a time-out, except instead of sending the kid out to another room, you have him or her sit in the room with you. The theory makes sense: Foster/adoptive kids usually suffer from a sense of abandonment, so you don’t want to do anything that creates a feeling of isolation. You need to work extra hard to communicate, “There is a consequence for ripping Snakey’s eyes out when I told you to leave your brother’s stuffed animals alone. And, I’m still here, I still love you, and we’re still together.”
Plus, what could be more effective than having your kid continue to see his victimized sibling continue to play—in plain sight—while he needs to sit in a chair?
Not to mention: In an era where every kid has his or her own phone and/or tablet, a game console, and a TV, “go to your room” is about as harsh a consequence as “go spend a weekend in Vegas.” Not exactly fear-inducing.
Meanwhile, the strategy I will claim to have invented: the structured tantrum. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but bear with me.
Being a big believer in the “let it all out” approach to dealing with feelings—in another life I was probably Yoko Ono—I am all about tantrums. Also crying, moaning, sobbing, laughing hysterically, and other outbursts. I believe they are good for the soul. The only problem is, unlike with those other forms of expressions, tantrums can break things. And hurt people.
So we had a tantrum rule: If you get really mad, have a tantrum. Go all out—make the neighbors worry for our safety.
But do it in your room. Ideally, on your bed. Where punching, kicking, and throwing are involved, limit it to soft things: pillows, mattresses, covers. Within those soft constraints, the sky’s the limit—easier to replace a pillowcase than a shattered vase, not to mention your brother’s head.
You might not be surprised to hear which of my kids was the tantrum-thrower. (Hint: I used to encourage Daveon to throw more tantrums, which is pretty weird on one level, but makes a little more sense if you think about it in terms of trying to get a heady person a bit outside of his head.) For Mark the structured tantrum approach worked surprisingly well. When he would start to get steamed about—well, he used to get steamed about a lot of things—the cue “If you want to throw a tantrum, hit the bed” was successful almost all the time. And he would inevitably feel better after getting it all out—the whole point of a tantrum, after all. So it was a win for all of us—him, his feelings, the vases, and his brother’s bones.