Timeouts when kids hit? Only by staying with them.

Hi Laura,
I run a community learning hub for at risk young mum's and their children. Our aim is to support the young parents by role modeling positive parenting strategies in our play experiences with their children.

Currently we are having a HUGE challenge with one little boy who is two and half years. There are a multitude of issues at play such as poor home environment so we see our time with him and his mum as an opportunity to provide calm, safe, positive play experiences for him. It is also an opportunity to support his mum in developing positive parenting strategies.

This little boy often spends his day physically harming the other children and it is getting to the stage where other parents are rightfully complaining. Currently we are beginning to have a staff member shadowing him to try to step in and avert disaster before it happens. I use the two choices method to give him a sense of power and avert power struggles.

Since he is so capable of hurting the other children we are using "time outs" too and I am now at a loss after reading your article as to what to do instead. We stay with him in the time out situation and use calming techniques and talk to him about the impact of his actions on the other child. Nothing seems to be working so I am wondering if you have any other ideas?
Thanks! Nicole

Nicole,

Thanks for writing. It sounds like you are doing terrific work. Your solution of having a staff member shadow this child and step in to prevent aggressive acts is exactly what I would do. And removing him from the situation when he does act aggressively is also what I would do. I do not think of that as a timeout, because in the US when parents do timeouts they leave the child by himself for a specified period of time. Your strategy is different. You are staying with him, using calming techniques, helping him realize the effects of his actions on the other kids. That is very different than a timeout.

You ask what else you can do. As you know, when this child is still in the same situation with a mum who is still learning how to parent appropriately, there are limitations. However, I think you can do a lot, even to the point of him eventually being able to tell his mum when she is treating him disrespectfully.

The most important thing I would do is help him build emotional intelligence. What you describe doing, i.e. helping him see his effect on other kids, is important. But until he feels empathy for those kids, he may not care much how he is affecting the other kids. So even more important is offering him empathy, which is how he will become empathic. (I assume you are already doing this as you speak with him and shadow him.) There is a whole section on my website on emotional intelligence and empathy.

There is also a great book on the practical issues in setting limits with a child like this who has learned to make himself unhappy: Smartlove, by Martha Heineman Pieper and William Pieper.

Another good resource is Aletha Solter, who writes a lot about how kids need an opportunity to cry (while being held) to discharge stored-up pain. I suspect this is true of your little guy. She has good articles on her website and various books out:
http://www.awareparenting.com/books.htm

Finally, you might want to check out this letter and my answer to a mom whose son was always clobbering the other kids at the playgroup, in which I describe how to empathize to prevent him from hitting.

I hope this is helpful! Please keep me posted. And you have my admiration for the work you are doing.
Warm regards,
Laura

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