A question that is often asked amongst those trying to become more responsive parents is “how does a time-in work? Does it not reward my child for their bad behaviour?” You may find yourself asking the same question. The confusion demonstrates a greater problem then just understanding time-ins, it is about believing in the consequences of punishments and
no longer seeing love as a reward, but rather the oldest and most natural emotional regulation tool known to man.
We do not take this approach to be soft, or to protect our children from negative emotions. Emotions will happen, boundaries will need to be enforced and that can often trigger an emotional reaction. See the reaction as an opportunity for both of you to practice effective problem solving and coping skills. Responsive parenting is not about protecting children from harm, it is about treating them the same way we would any adult, avoiding childism as best we can.
In The Adult World
If you had someone at work who was starting to irritate you. They always leave their stuff around and they always interrupt you when you are talking to other people. How would you deal with this in a workplace setting? Would you berate them everyday until they started picking up after themselves and started showing some manners and respect? Some people may say, “well that’s different because I am not responsible for my colleagues.” What if you were this person’s boss (and they can’t be fired, it’s a unionized position)? Would you be able to yell at them? What about telling them to stay in their own office until they realize what they have done? What about setting up a rewards chart and for everyday that they put their coffee mug in the dishwasher and don’t interrupt you, they get a star, and at the end of the week, if they get 5 stars, you buy them a coffee? What about if you withhold things from them such as not allowing them to go to the staff BBQ or not allowing them to have a piece of pizza on pizza day? Would you take away his computer? What would happen if you treated your employee like this? You would likely receive complaints from HR and since this is a union job, the union would likely be unhappy. The employee may go on stress leave and you may be the one punished in the end.
How are you more likely to handle it? You would speak with them, try and empathize, try and stay calm and also try and be gracious. That’s how adults handle annoying things that people do. For some reason, when children annoy us, we feel it is our obligation to instil a lesson about not being annoying. In reality, we just further isolate ourselves from our children. They say “pick your battles” because EVERY battle will pull you further apart, so make sure you’re willing to risk it. Better yet, talk to your child, don’t worry about what the right punishment should be or how to best convince them to obey your requests, just start with talking. Tell them your feelings and ask them how they feel. The objective is not to raise obedient soldiers but rather to raise altruistic and empathetic global leaders, revolutionaries and healers.
Compassion is Support, Not a Reward
The second shift is away from believing that affection and compassion is a reward. That is conditional love. You are sending the message that “even though I know you are having a hard time I will not show you love because I am mad and I disapprove of your behaviour.” Chances are your child is mad too and you are asking them to calm down and show compassion and remorse, prior to you doing the same thing. As a parent we should model these behaviours instead of expecting our children to demonstrate them for us, before we are able to achieve them ourselves.
The reward for taking this approach is not just for the child. As you shift your focus from behaviour and obedience to trust and responsive support, you will notice your household is calmer. If you do not notice this change, you may not be fully connected to the idea of letting go of all punishment. Even though we aren’t taking away possessions, privileges or sending them to their rooms, we are often inadvertently withholding love and inducing guilt and shame when they make a mistake. This type of emotional punishment may continue to disrupt the harmony of your family. I know all of this because I once lost my way and began using traditional behavioural methods in our home. There were a lot of factors contributing to my poor choices, however, little did I know at the time, that my traditional parenting choices were exacerbating the stress in our home, making me feel like a failure and causing more behaviour issues in my child. Because everyone was mad all the time, my husband and I also fought more. It was an awful time and I allowed myself to act that way because I was overwhelmed.
Finally I decided enough was enough, I hated myself and the parent I had become. I found my way back to gentle parenting practices through connecting with attachment parenting groups online and reading lots of articles and books. I began writing about my experiences and accepting how my own behaviour and anxiety was contributing to the situation. Within a week, my son stopped telling me he hated me and wanted a new mommy. Within two weeks he went from 7-10 meltdowns a day to a few a week. Now, he has had one major meltdown in the last four months. The shift in our home was drastic and notably fast. I will never be convinced again that punishments and rewards are beneficial. I have seen how negatively they impacted my family and I won’t be making that mistake again. You have to do what works for your family and only you know what will work for you and your child. Having said that, give this approach time before deciding “it’s not working.” Give your family at least 4 to 6 weeks of no punishment, rewards, shaming, guilt or emotional blackmail. You will start to feel like you are on vacation because the stress of constantly trying to navigate how to “parent” each situation suddenly melts away and the answer is always the same….
Suggestions for Time-in
- Book of mindful activities for children: I like “Breath Like a Bear”
- Yoga book for children: There are many but I like “Goodnight Yoga”
- Sensory space: contains lots of calming and sensory items. Can be set up in a closet, playhouse or just a corner of the room. Children are never forced to go there, they are offered it as an option for coping.
- Calming box: Contains items that encourage mindfulness and relaxation (bubbles, stuffed animal, sensory pillows or sheets, paper and crayons, sensory bottles, etc.). Pintrest has lots of ideas.
- Homemade book “what I can do when I’m upset”: contains pictures of them doing things that bring them joy and peace such as drawing a picture, snuggling with my dog, going for a walk, swinging on the swing
For advice on how to cope with meltdowns in the moment read: Responding to Emotional Outbursts: 5 Steps to Emotional Intelligence and Peace for the Whole Family
If you want to join me, and our community of responsive parents, on this wonderfully complex journey of parenting, please join my parenting support group on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/groups/806727139517086