Friday, March 31, 2017

Alexis in the Role of The Supernanny

Image result for angry child
what I dealt with, more or less
Today I participated in a session of implementing behavioral strategies for a child. The child has had issues with general noncompliance and with extreme manifestations of anger whenever the parents have not given him something that he wanted. The targeted behaviors were (and will continue to be; this is not a battle that can be won outrightly in a single day) noncompliance with parental directions and tantrum behaviors when he is not allowed to have or to do something that he wants.

The first step today was to wait for the defiant or disobedient act or for a loud and violent tantrum, and to insist that the child remain in the time-out spot until he was told he could vacate it, which would be five minutes from the start of his time-out once he remained there. At any time that he vacated the spot prematurely, he would be physically placed there again, and the timer would start over. For legal and ethical reasons, I cannot provide a very detailed account of the session. Suffice it to say that it took just under three hours to convince the child that he had no choice but to remain in the time-out spot the parents had chosen. The child weighs in excess of fifty pounds. I weigh less than one-hundred pounds. The ordeal was exhausting. The nearly three hours seemed more like twelve hours to me.

I had never before implemented the time-out technique on an uncooperative child, though I had seen multiple videos of it. It was in a way an act of faith on my part to tell the parents that the technique would succeed if the adult outlasted the child, since I had never implemented it, nor, for that matter, had I even seen it implemented in person. For all I knew, the videos were doctored. Still I had faith that it made sense and that it would work. 

My faith and my credibility, on the other hand, were two entirely different matters. I'm a whopping twenty-two years old. I have no advance degrees or credentials qualifying me to advise anyone as to how to discipline his or her child. I don't have a child of my own. And, most regrettably, I don't have a snazzy British accent that so beautifully convinces both children and parents that a person has expertise in all things related to child care and discipline. The parents were skeptical of me, and rightfully so. They would have been fools not to have been skeptical of me, if not of the time-out technique itself.

The principle behind it is that if a parent or care-provider restrains a child for the duration of his time-out, very little has been accomplished. If time-out is managed with physical restraint, the child is typically angry when the required time has been fulfilled, probably has learned little, and is in no state to return to his environment in a calm state of mind and behaving more appropriately. When the can child keep himself in the timeout space until the designated time (one minute per yer of developmental age) has elapsed and until the child is somewhat calm and can apologize sincerely, a learning experience has likely occurred.

The down-side to the technique is that it can take a very long time and very many repetitions of placing the child back into the time-out spot before he or she comes to a realization that the adult will outlast the child and that the child has no real alternative other than to serve the time-out. I could have made my labor less intensive by standing just beyond the time-out spot and stopping the child each time just he left the designated space, but a key point to be established is that the child is not entitled to the undivided attention of the adult for the duration of the time-out.  The adult needs to see that the child is stationary in the space, then walk away, though not too far if it would be logistically silly to do so.

The tone of the child was initially mocking and disrespectful. Then anger was directed at me. Next there were tears and what I saw as attempts to manipulate the parents, who kept their end of the agreement and did not intervene. Then, out of the blue, the child complied. There was only one other instance in the remaining two hours that I was present that a warning had to be given to the child.

It would have been better in many ways if one or both of the parents had been the ones to enforce the time-out. It's possible that the child would have complied sooner had he not clung to the hope that at least one of his parents would eventually come to his rescue. The child learned that I can outlast him. He now needs to learn that both of his parents can and will outlast him. They wouldn't have been willing to invest the time and energy, however, had I not first proven to them that the technique would work even with their child.  And he may fight them even harder because he will sense their pain at having to make their child incredibly unhappy in requiring him to submit to a time-out. I was not emotionally invested and had sufficient professional distance that the only pain I felt was the literal physical pain from having been struck repeatedly and from my muscles aching from lifting the child repeatedly over a nearly three-hour time span, which pales in comparison to the emotional anguish of watching one's own child agonize until finally making the right choice.

Now the parents have a long weekend during which they need to provide the foundation for establishing their authority with their child.  I will move on, but others with whom I have worked, including a behaviorist who was present today, will be available next week as well as during follow-up sessions in the coming weeks and months. I'm confident that these parents will follow through with what they need to do. They're intelligent and moral people, and they care about their child. It's for his benefit that this needs to be done.

This experience underscores to me the importance of establishing a reasonable level of authority with children once they've emerged from infancy. I don't believe in any of the Duggar-related nonsense of hitting a baby with a switch in order to train him to stay on his blanket, or anything of that nature. And there's no reason a home needs to be run like a boot camp, with a parent barking orders and a child instantly complying in fear. On the other hand, it's not doing a child any favor to let him get so out of control that he's practically a terrorist in his own home. There is a way to find some middle ground. 

I personally think the elusive middle ground is best found, and justifiable authority best established, as a child is approaching two years of age. That's probably the ideal age to implement the whole time-out concept. The process shouldn't take three hours or more with a two-year-old, and even if it does, he's smaller and easier to carry back to the designated spot.

I have given up on the physical discomfort. My head is throbbing, my neck hurts, my abdominal muscles and arm muscles are aching, and I cannot sleep. It's time for a Vitamin V. I've earned it.


  1. That does not sound like a fun way to spend an afternoon.

    1. It was far from fun, but it was aatisfying when the child ultimately stayed where he was supposed to stay, then apologized nicely to his mom.