Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Time Out is having Time Out

I wrote a few weeks ago about my battle of emotions and wills and my understanding vs what everyone else does in parenting and what is expected and what works.
This is kind of my further thoughts and processing being poured out on the page, in a kind of part 2 post. Part 1 is here .
So, here are my continuing ramblings and continued understanding. Bear with me, I am on a learning curve, here.
My dilemma with Time Out as a strategy when we are in meltdown mode in our house is whether it really is the best strategy to use?
It clearly is effective for lots of normal children and parents and is readily promoted on TV and parenting courses - I have even seen Time Out chairs and Time Out steps being advertised!
here's the thing: is it best for me and for my adopted child? At my recent CAMHS appointment they had suggested that Time Out might not be the best strategy as it is just that - time out - and that the separation  might not be best for a child who needs attachment. I certainly don't wish to do further damage and I do not wish to do something just because but I do not wish to raise a spoilt child or one who doesn't learn right from wrong.
So, what is some more of the theory and what do I do?
PJ had come from a history of neglect and abuse and hadn't had the needed stimulus and attachment that a Mum would usually give in the early years, so her primal brain, her brain stem is on high alert, probably constantly. Her default button is set to fight flight and fear mode. Therefore the mid brain, the bits which control her self regulating parts of her brain are not yet developed. She is wired for self survival and when something startles her she goes off like a bottle of pop. Also, because of the lack of stimulus and soothing from a calm parent in those early years, she has yet to develop the parts of her brain to reason, understand cause and effect, the front brain. Therefore, when she goes into complete meltdown mode, her default, she goes off like a bottle of pop and she ain't hearing me if I say anything. There is no point telling her if you do or don't do this then, or telling her to stop... she is not able to reason - cause and affect isn't there, consequences have no impression and using words at her - or shouting, as has at times happened, doesn't work - in fact - it just makes it worse.
She seems to push me further and further away - until I end up leaving her alone.
Here is the pattern we have been in:
We start with the meltdown and I try the nearest available space.
She hits or kicks or throws form the crumpled heap I have just put her in.
I try the nearest step available - eg - stairs or patio step.
She continues to hit or kick or throw objects at me.
We go upstairs and she hits and kicks on the way.
I out her in the bedroom behind her stair gate and she continues.
I try and stay in the room but she shuffles on the floor to me and throws toys at me.
I leave, retreating, as she lobs toys at me from down the stairs.
Her emotions are high, her pain and shame is high and I have been raging, at times.
Then comes the breakthrough moment. A few seconds of distance, usually, by the time I have been to the loo or gone down stairs, all is calm and we hug and say sorry and carry on from where we left off.
It ain't pretty.
I don't like doing it.
I have been desperate to change things and to find some good, safe, workable, effective therapeutic solutions and to increase my understanding more.
The principle behind time out is this: to create separation between child and parent and therefore pain in the separation brings an association for the child with the action of what they have done and the response with the time out - the reasoning, the cause and effect - is developed for the child to then learn not to do the action in the first place, thus creating happy child and happy parent and the need  for a time out step is no more. Happy Days!
So, for an adopted child with developmental trauma disorder - they have experienced past trauma and pain of separation in the past from their parent through lack of care and their needs not being met.  They have experienced being startled and they weren't soothed by their parent and reassured that everything would be OK.
Added to this, their brain hasn't developed sufficiently yet, to understand reason and cause and effect and consequence.
Separation + pain + cause and effect = Time Out.
If this is so, why would I do this?
PJ doesn't need separation from me, she needs attachment.
PJ doesn't yet understand cause and effect, so why would I try and reason with her?
PJ feels pain of separation and feels shame and her emotions go off the scale in default fear flight fight response.
I am having Time Out from Time Out and instead I am going to have lots of Time In.
I am aiming to get in there as soon as I can with a hug, to calm and soothe.
If I need to distance myself to keep myself or her safe, then I will but I am going to stay as close as I can with the aim of calming and soothing her - I am aiming to re-wire her default button, I am being that regulator switch for her - just like she should have had in those early years - as with a tiny newborn, she is too young emotionally for controlled crying, so I won't leave her.
At night, when she cries for me, I go back to her. I don't leave her to cry.
I sit close by when I put her on a time out - my aim is to remove her from the situation - not to remove me from the situation.
CAMHS suggested I use cushions around her when she is arms and legs flailing and Adoption support from my Adoption Agency  suggested using a bean bag as this might help to ground her - I guess the same principle of using a baby blanket for a tiny baby - to create safety.

It definitely helps if I stay calm.
It means I then stay in control.
If I am calm and therefore in control it helps me not try and win but to help her become secure and safe.
If I get in there quick and remain calm and stay with her it usually calms things much quicker.
If I think toddler, it also helps, as emotionally she is still 18 months - 2 years and not 4.
I am still battling with the hitting and kicking scenario as this is the hardest as she hurts. Any advice out there?

My battle in my head is the old voices ingrained in my core being of upbringing of children doing as they are told, or about winning because you are the grown up, thoughts on discipline.....
It is interesting to learn that discipline comes from the word disciple. which means to teach, to follow.
It doesn't mean to punish.
This bring me much more freedom with this fresh understanding.
I am giving myself permission to think and behave differently.
for me, time out is now having time out.
We are going for time in.

PJ and I are about to go and choose together a bean bag and we will see if it helps with a little grounding and sensory awareness....


  1. Even before I was a parent I was very uncomfortable with 'time out' and all other forms of what I consider to be emotional punishments which are supposed to be so much more enlightened than physical punishments, but I consider to be potentially just as hurtful to the child. Can it really be true that a smack to the leg is tantamount to abuse, but forcing a child to sit, ignored, on special chairs or steps, separating them from their caregiver and comfort when they are distressed is absolutely fine and has no negative effect? Some of the supernanny-type approaches I've seen on TV have made me absolutely cringe and feel so bad for the children who are being constantly pushed away and punished when actually their difficult behaviour is really no fault of their own, but rather due at least in part to chaotic parenting. Anyway . . . there's my soap box, sorry about that!
    Like you, I have practiced 'time together' for tantrums, including violent screaming trantrums, rather than time out which, as you say, doesn't work and is sometimes counter-productive, giving the impression that the child is only wanted if they are happy, not when they are upset, angry or crying. This has been difficult for me with two toddlers, but we established a space at the end of the hall, within sight of the playroom where one child could go and I could go with him while still keeping my eye on the other who would be in the playroom. I wouldn't necessarily hold him as there'd be a lot of hitting and kicking, but I would place my hands gently on his legs or hands and say firmly, "we don't hit / kick" or whatever. If he was more receptive I'd try "I can see you're angry/upset but it's still not ok to kick". It didn't always work at the time, but I felt it was important to be working towards a goal of better self-regulation, and things did get better over time.

    1. thank you so much for these encouraging words and we will see what happens. If I remain calm then the gentle hand on the legs and acknowledging can really help alongside a hug - but if I too go from 0-60 it all goes pear shaped. hahaha

  2. I know with my (adopted) nephew we use time together/in taking the lead from his parents as we do with most things. He comes and sits with us (often on lap) until he is ready to listen or talk about what he has done. However he rarely kicks or hits so sitting him on lap works. It also calms him down as we get giddy sessions which is when most issues occur. I know spending all the time we have with him has given me a lot to think about when we get our son placed. I definitely feel that with adopted children staying with them in a designated place is the best approach so they do not feel separated.

    1. staying with really does help. thanks for your encouraging words.


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