My struggles with how to implement the timeout technique make me fear that I’ll turn into one of those pleading parents. You know, those wretchedly annoying types who speak so calmly, gratingly and ineffectively: “Paul, now remember what Mommy said. Please put that down now. . . Paul, Paul . . . Please put that down now. . . Honey, please listen. . . Okay Paul, now if you put that down, I’ll get you an ice cream. . . Okay, okay honey, I’ll just buy it.”
I want to have a spine and not let my kids transform me into a limp noodle who capitulates to them because I can’t take one more moment of whining or screaming, or because I don’t want to co-star in another installment of “Let’s Have a Public Temper Tantrum.” But I also don’t want to become a screaming shrew whose every word comes up shrill and high-pitched. There are days though when I feel like all I do is yell and run into rooms by myself so I can curse a blue streak because I’m so frustrated. (Hey, at least I don’t swear in front of the crumb crunchers! Although my experience as a reporter in newsrooms has left me with a potty mouth that takes considerable effort to silence when I find myself on my hands and knees mopping up pee or watermelon that’s been thrown at the kitchen wall.)
So back to the timeouts. I try to use them only when nothing else seems to work, or when the kiddos appear to be testing me just to see how much they can push my buttons. (Or, how long it takes before my head spins around and I rocket to Mars and back fully fueled by adrenaline). I use two types: the angry timeout and the perfect parent one. In the perfect parent timeout, I calmly give the child the option of standing facing the wall or having her diaper changed. If the answer is, “No” — either by word or deed — I instruct the child to go to stand facing the nearest wall not covered by fun things (like dangling phone cords or CDs within reach). No emotions are shown. I’m the utter portrait of tranquility. However this one is rare. After a long day of toddlers testing their limits, there’s only so much tranquility I can muster.
Despite my best intentions, it morphs into the angry timeout when the kid either runs away and hides, or stands there in open defiance and shakes his head in the negative. This happens most often with Abbey. She adamantly refuses not only to come over, but when I’m forced to go and scoop her up and face her to the wall (try this while you’re eight months pregnant), she instantaneously loses all control over her leg and arm muscles forcing me to manually hold her in an upright position. After about 30 seconds, she usually pounds her fists against the wall while I prop her up.
Either way, perfect or angry, the timeouts don’t seem to be doing a lick of good. It’s not unheard of for one of my kids to follow a timeout with a return back to what they were doing to prompt the first punishment. But what is there left to do to reprimand them? Take away something, like a treat or a favorite TV show? They don’t watch much TV or eat many “treats” so that wouldn’t be much of an incentive. And there are only so many minutes in the day you can use timeouts before they become completely useless and more like a game than a punishment. (Jonah often emerges from his timeouts with a giant, smug smile on his face.)
So what’s a mom to do? Go hide in a closet until they turn 4 and hope that they won’t be as incorrigible? (Probably a pipe dream.) Hire Mary Poppins to come to my house and turn them into the cherubs that they look like when they’re asleep (because of course she’d know what to do)? Perhaps the best solution: Put myself in timeout. I need a nap.
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