There has been a big shift toward “positive parenting” lately. It’s a good thing, but it doesn’t always take into account the frustration and overwhelm of being a single parent – which a lot of military spouses spend a lot of time being. I read a book recently about a mindful approach to parenting, which advocated putting yourself in your child’s shoes, acting with empathy, and working out a “win-win” solution together.
“Yes!” I thought. This is what I’m going to be – the mindful, calm, compassionate mother. It all sounded great to me – until I tried it with my very, very stubborn daughter, who wanted a cookie thirty minutes before dinner.
I was calm. I told her she would have to wait until after dinner for her dessert. She whined. I told her I understood that she was feeling frustrated. “How empathetic I’m being,” I thought. She screamed. I hugged her and said, “Let’s work out a solution. If you’re hungry, how about some strawberries now?” She flung herself on the floor.
That’s when I gave up on mindful parenting and put her in time out.
Parents who have highly sensitive or emotional kids, I realized, sometimes need a more balanced approach to parenting than just strict punishment vs. soft-spoken empathy. So I did some more research. I discovered that I had to acknowledge my kids’ feelings while also expressing that the negative behavior that came along with it wasn’t appropriate. One of the best ways to do this, it seemed to me, was something called “time ins.”
Time in is like time out, except better. In time out, you send your child away to their room or a specific place in the house as a punishment; the isolation from you is supposed to make the child realize that acting negatively doesn’t get them what they want. This is a good thing for them to realize, but it isn’t always effective.
In time in, you also send them away (and you also get your much-needed space and time to breathe and calm down). But instead of sending them away to “think about what they did,” you send them away with the intention of calming them down. You set up a corner of their room with a soft rug, some pillows or a bean bag chair, and a few stuffed animals. You put up a picture on the wall of different feelings (my daughter LOVES this chart), and you provide a device for them to choose their own calm music. I recently bought a kids’ meditation device that allows them to access ten different five-minute meditations by just pushing a button.
The idea is that you are giving them something to do other than just be mad and think about how much they dislike you. I think that being alone is an important skill that all kids need to learn. In my family, we live in a small house, my kids have always shared a room and gone to the same school, and one of my daughters is absolutely terrified to be by herself. That has been a failing of my parenting, surely, because I never made it a point when she was very young to show her how nice it can be to be alone sometimes.
I think it’s important that we show kids that being alone is okay. It’s also okay to be alone and not be playing with toys, or watching tv, but rather sitting and thinking, or reading, or listening to music.
This is why I’m turning time out into time in. I’m sure it’s not always going to work (I anticipate having to station myself outside the door and send her back in many times). But I think it’s one good step toward helping my kids deal with having very loud brains in a very loud world.