Sunday, March 16, 2014

SOLSC 17 of 31 - Does Time Out Work? A Battle of Wills

Join me this month as I write a slice of my life each day this March and join many others sharing slices at  My students will also be slicing this month and you can find links to their daily blogs HERE.  

"You need to clean up the cottage cheese please."
"NO! I don't want to!"
Deep breath. "That's what we do when we spill things Honey. Even if it's an accident." I hold out a paper towel. "I'll finish cleaning if you start."
"You spilled it," she proclaims, eyes searching my face to see how I will react to this blatant untruth. Is that a smirk on her face or am I imagining it? 

Am I willing to be drawn into a battle of wills, one I'm not sure that "winning" will be worth. We're about to head out to a get-together of our college alums and their children. If we leave right now, we will be on time, but my wife is changing clothes and this cottage cheese incident could take a while if I allow it to escalate. But what if I don't stand my ground? I know my wife is listening upstairs as she contemplates her outfit. What is she thinking?

Well, I know what I'm thinking. Nothing gets me to seeing red faster than defiance in my child or my students. I'm better these days at holding my emotions in check and being more diplomatic but defiance is always part of my teacher dreams/nightmares.

"If you don't clean this up, you have time out."
"No! I won't clean it," her face in a scowl that is half-real and half-testing me.
"Alright," I say in a matter of fact voice that hopefully covers my frustration and fears of going this route. "On the couch for three minutes." We go with the 'one minute per year of age' philosophy. I set the timer, remove the toys from her immediate area and sit down to ignore her as best I can, while staying near enough the cottage cheese to keep the cat from eating, and subsequently puking, it up later.

First Minute - Clara hides her face in her knees, but doesn't cry, real or fake tears, like she often does.
Second Minute - She starts rolling around and looking for something to play with. I remove the cat bed once she starts curling up in it and pretending to be a kitty.
Third Minute - She starts talking to me and trying to negotiate. "I'll talk to you when the timer beeps. Timeout is almost over."

Not my daughter but an important reminder about
forgiving petulant children...and adults.

"Okay Honey. Timeout is over. Do you want a hug? I love you even though you had timeout." After moment hesitation she comes over for a hug. While sitting on my lap, "If we clean up right now, I'll help you and then we can go to the party and play with the kids!" My mind is pleading with her to take the deal, to give me any kind of sign so I can end this and move on.

Still a little more defiance to go. "No!"

I pick up the paper towel again. "Come and look at it. It's not very much and We always clean up Our messes. Or We can have timeout again. What do you want?"


She snatches the paper towel from my hand and rips it in half. Giving me the bigger piece with a knowing smile, years beyond her, and actually starts wiping at the spilled curds. I gently direct her to pick some up she only swiped at and then to throw her towel away. I finish the rest, tell her thanks and give her a hug.

As I fit her sneakers onto her feet, we're all smiles and normal again. Susan comes downstairs, giving me a smile so I know she WAS listening, and we head off only a little late.

How did I win that? Sometimes I do everything right...perfectly even, and it doesn't work out. Other times I know I'm making a mistake with voice or body language or choices given or knee-jerk reactions and it works out. I think I did it right this time, but if she had stayed defiant, I don't know what would be next. I'll take the win, but know my wife and I will do a play-by-play later to try and figure out what worked and why. Luckily, she's just as skilled and clueless as I am in these matters with a similar success ratio and similar frustrations.

I hope I never completely figure out how to manage my daughter's behavior (and I think that's assured), because the successes would not be so sweet. I also hope my interactions will models good ways to dealing with others during the various conflicts that will arise in her life.

photo credit: <a href="">symphony of love</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>


  1. WOW - your post today is timely for me. My adult kids are embroiled in a feud about stubbornness....sigh....that is breaking my heart!

  2. I love your awareness about you and your wife " she is just as skilled and clueless as I am". This is parenting at its core. I have three aged 5,9.5,&11 and we still don't always get it right. . .

  3. And just when you think you've got it figured out... A parenting win AND you preserved the relationship, go Dad!

  4. I saw myself in this slice of yours . . . I too find defiance something that is very hard to deal with. I wonder if it was our upbringing as it seems nothing gets me more. Good job though handling the situation and yes which battles are we willing to take on?!? THe never ending questions ;-)

  5. I love the part when you said she had a, "knowing smile, years beyond her." We've all been in that situation.

  6. Always a tough call, & seems to happen when you're in a hurry! Maybe they feel the tension of that too? You were a patient dad & it worked out this time. Glad to hear the connection with older kids too. It's the same dilemma about power isn't it? Thanks Max!

  7. A power struggle, yes, but both of you learned something, I think - and both of you won!

  8. A classic story about a three year old! So much more difficult when they are our very own children, and not students. I find myself curious about what made her think the cottage cheese spill was your fault? In my classroom (23 three year olds!), I am constantly seeing things one way and finding out that they see it another way entirely. Headstrong little beings - but, ultimately, loving you, they want to please you. Kudos to you for enormous patience!

  9. You are an inspiring parent. The deliberateness and thoughtfulness into each action/thought is truly marvelous!

  10. " hope I never completely figure out how to manage my daughter's behavior (and I think that's assured), because the successes would not be so sweet."
    This line is perfection! Heaven help us with these little girls huh? My daughter's favorite when I ask is a very polite "no thank you mommy" followed by a turn and walk away. Sigh...