I came across Dirty Dancing the other day.

Now you might think that Dirty Dancing is eighties’ drivel…

…Or you might be like me and spent your tween years memorising the  soundtrack, dancing ‘in hold’ by the screen, and coveting silver dance shoes (how I wanted to master those heel flicks)…

Cuddly toy cat holding up cuddly cow in the Dirty Dancing 'Lift'

Anyone else love Patrick Swayze?

Here’s a little something from my childhood archive, found recently by my dad…

Emma's childhood picture from a photo booth with Patrick Swayze

How can you tell it’s not real? Does my comparatively gigantic head give it away?

Yep, sadly it’s one of those photo booth fakes.

More seriously, I’m so sorry that Patrick Swayze passed away. I remember watching an interview with him and his wife after he was diagnosed with cancer.

We need to enjoy every minute with our loved ones (cliché, but true).

Which brings me back on subject.

Like many parents, I used Time Out because that was the only tool I had.

How else could I deal with the hitting, the defiancy, the throwing of cutlery and porridge balls at the wall during a meltdown?

What’s bad about Time Out?

It may surprise you (it surprised me at the time) that many organisations, including many mental health and children’s charities, don’t recommend Time Out.

And there are many nurseries and schools who no longer use it.

Partly because children are more likely to spend their few minutes in Time Out being angry: I hate Dad. I hate my little sister. Is four minutes up yet?

Or ‘self-shaming’: I hit. I’m a bad kid. I can’t stop myself. What’s wrong with me?

Because young children aren’t developmentally ready to calm themselves, and use reason and empathy. 

The brain areas they need to do this are in the early building stages, and are completely shut down by stress.

So now most psychologists, paediatricians and mental health experts focus on prevention, so watching for the first signs of stress, and taking steps to lower anxiety.

And when all else fails, they use Time In i.e. supporting a child through the meltdown.

When I discovered Time In, it sounded super-duper.

But Time In didn’t go to plan either.

So I have discovered some great modifications…

1. Nobody puts Baby in a corner (unless they want to get headbutted)

I’d seen a photo in a book of Time In. There was a calm-looking mother holding her angry child on the stairs.

I tried to reproduce this image.

So when I first started Time In, it was pretty much like Time Out. There was a ‘calm spot’ at the bottom of the stairs. I’d take my eldest there. I’d make him sit with me. He’d be angry about that. I’d sit beside him and try to hold him lovingly.

He’d try to hit me. Bite me. Headbutt me.

Just getting to the Time In spot was escalating the problem. As was staying in it.

I went on a timely education course. The trainer said:

“Physical force escalates problems 99% of the time.”

Yep, even gentle restraint (because it’s not always perceived that way by our children).

So his advice, from working with the most challenging kids? As long as they’re not a danger to themselves or others – let the child run under the table, or run up the stairs. Let him come to you when he’s ready.

And you can remove other children away (children who are less likely to hit you). So you can pick up the sibling who got hit instead and give them a hug, and a natural consequence of hitting someone is that the person who got hurt needs attention.

Often a problem can be resolved there and then.

“You were angry because Alfie took your truck. I understand that you’re angry. The rule is no hitting when we’re angry. It hurts.” Then we can offer solutions for an immediate change in behaviour, “You want your brother to stop playing with your truck? Can you offer him another toy? Or play on the table where he can’t reach?”

We can find our children immediately respond to this.

Once we put their frustrations into words, often the anger just goes there and then. Because they feel heard and now they have another solution at their finger tips. So your child may instantly be calmed and co-operate just by feeling heard.

And because we haven’t manhandled them, they can calm down quicker.

The hitting stops because they have another solution. Which is what we want. This helps him to develop impulse control.

And of course want to follow up with repair – the consequence – which he may be ready to do there and then. Not just apologising, but genuinely repairing with the person that they’ve wronged. So we might encourage him to offer his brother a hug, or find him a toy that he loves, make a sorry card or pick up what she’s thrown across the room.

But what if the hitting continues?

2. Hey, spaghetti arms…

Wherever your ‘Time In’ ends up (perhaps you crawl under the table with them), your child is still in fight or flight, fending off attackers.

If we respect their personal space – their dance space – injuries to both parties are far less likely.

Say you sit beside her and she doesn’t like it, or goes to hit you, you can ease back. You can say, “I see you need more space. I’m going to sit further away. I’m here when you need me to help you calm down.”

And if he’s damaging something? Well that’s your call. You’ll want to weigh up the value of the item versus the value of not being hurt.

Because both adults and children can be hurt by well-meaning restraint. I know teachers who’ve had to take time off work because of injuries gained from restraining a three year old – it’s surprising how much little ones can damage us too (those heads are hard and the teeth are sharp!).

But what about when they come into your space and attack?

You’ll want to protect your dance space (and that of anyone else with you).

You can use your arms and body as a barrier, which is much less threatening than when you grab, move and manipulate your child’s body.

When my eldest son was at peak meltdown age (around 3) and tried to attack, I would crouch down at a safe distance (making myself look less threatening) with my hands out in front so he couldn’t get at my face or body, but often just moving to this body position, at his level, out of his personal space would do it.

I used my soft and calming ‘biter-whisperer voice’ to say something like, “You’re angry. No hitting. It hurts. When you’re ready for a cuddle to help you calm down, I’m here for you.”

Now you know your child best here. If you’re worried about your personal safety or that of others, especially with older, bigger children, you may want to remove yourself further away, even to a different room.

You can also look for a course near you to learn safe restraint to help reduce the likelihood of injury should you need to protect your child or others from danger.

But as my Safeguarding trainer said, physical force and restraint should be avoided wherever possible because they escalate the problem and can lead to injury. If you can help your child to calm down without the need for restraint, you’re onto a winner.

3. Curing the Overload

Now one of the mistakes I made when first starting out was talking too much. Particularly at the peak of my son’s meltdown. Ever found yourself doing this?

Reasoning. Trying to get them to see things from the other person’s point of view. Coming up with solutions.

When our children’s brains are in shutdown.

My friend likened it to trying to berate a drunk. You need to wait until he’s sober.

At the peak of a meltdown, when the brain is in complete shutdown, techniques you might find helpful are cuddling and gentle rocking when your child wants this (you can just give them space and let them come into your lap when they’re ready), and empathising and seeing thing from their point of view to help engage and wake up their brains.

So you could say with genuine empathy, “You didn’t like it when he took your truck. You felt angry.”

It’s so challenging to resist the urge to start correcting before he’s ‘sober’, but it’s so much easier to stay calm and collected when we’re not trying to restrain them, convince them, or physically force them into a spot.

4. Don’t you feel like cryin’?

Ever felt better after a good cry when you’ve been with someone supportive? (Crying by ourselves doesn’t always help though.)

We’ve been taught that big girls – and boys – don’t cry, but it’s healthy. Stress hormones actually come out through the tears. It’s what nature intended.

If we say ‘don’t cry’, our children can learn to stuff emotions away. But they’ll resurface later.

Crying is a release for a young child, because she can’t put into words, ‘I’m scared of the lady with the gigantic teeth at pre-school. I don’t like it when she tells me off.’ Often children are really crying about some underlying stressor. The lost Tigger cup was just the last straw.

But…

A lot of parents struggle with this (I know I did).

Every child is different, and so is every day. Sometimes crying won’t come, or doesn’t help.

Sometimes cuddling or gently rocking is useful. Or he might need some play therapy, some time outdoors (log balancing, anyone?) and a giggle because laughter releases stress hormones too.

Or…

5. Dance

Because sometimes children, especially those who go into fight mode, need to MOVE to burn off the adrenalin.

Being stuck in a corner is the last thing he needs.

So he can dance for joy. To show anger. To giggle.

She can listen to her favourite song. Spin ribbons around. Or use makeshift drums.

Or he can use something out of their ‘Calm Down’ box, like bubbles or something to squeeze.

Dance, music and movement are therapeutic.

And they happen to be great preventative tools when it comes to meltdowns. Sometimes we call for a ‘dance break’ when someone’s feeling a bit grizzly, or when we’ve just been sat still for too long (or I’ve spent too long at the washing up ball).

And honestly, if you’re having a bad day and you’re a Dirty Dancing fan, try putting on ‘I’ve Had the Time of My Life’ – it’s pretty much impossible to stay in a bad mood.

But what about the punishment?

Haven’t our children just learned that when they hit they get cuddles, toys and fun stuff? They get to dance.

No. What they learn is that when they STOP hitting and ask for help they get cuddles, toys, fun stuff and dance. The hitting never needs to happen (and we can be clear on that).

They’re learning how to deal with emotions, without hitting.

And the consequence is repair with the person who’s been wronged. Alongside coming up with solutions to prevent it from happening again.

And believe me, I’ve seen this at home and at school, children are much more likely to genuinely apologise and repair if they don’t feel backed into a corner. Er, literally.

Instead of those post-Time-Out. forced apologies made through gritted teeth!

So let’s take a leaf out of Johnny’s book.

Let’s take Baby out of the corner – she might just surprise us.

If you’re faced with regular meltdowns, anxiety, or any other parenting issues that are causing you stress, you may like to come and join us in The Love Spa.

Love Emma x

 

Parent playing with her child lifting him into the air
Mother and child hugging showing positive parenting and conscious relationships

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