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Solutions for Misbehavior

I got a call last night from a mother who was simply distraught over her son’s bad behavior.  She reported that he was lying and stealing, even getting his younger brother to steal for him.  She was at the end of her rope and hanging on tight. 

I suggested that she pull him in closer and Time him In

Now Time In for a 11 year old looks somewhat different than for a 2 or 3 year old but it is still an effective way of helping kids get their behaviors under better control. 

Children do not learn to regulate their emotions or behaviors on their own.  It is not a natural instinct.  Children learn to regulate their emotions when their mothers or fathers hold them close and rock them.  Their heart beat “hears” the parent’s heart beat and they synchronize. It is a biological function that helps children to calm down and regulate themselves, as found in the work of Carter (2005) and Feldman, (2007). Children who are born to drug or alcohol addicted mothers or who live in chaotic, violent, or changing homes do not have the opportunity to calm down in a stable environment so don’t develop these vital self-calming skills. When children who have been in foster care, experienced breaks in care, or been in an orphanage do not experience this synchronicity, their ability to calm down doesn’t develop. They are generally fussy babies, pushing away from their caretakers, and refusing to make eye contact. 

As older children, they lie, cheat, steal, jump around the room, rip things out of people’s hands, do whatever they can think of to get someone’s attention so that the grownup gets the message – HELP ME…I’M GOING TO DIE IF I DON’T CALM DOWN MY INSIDES!!!  And that is what the child feels.  They are not being dramatic or manipulative.  The child feels like they really will die if they don’t get help with this horrible feeling they have inside their head or their body. 

So what can be done? 

Time In is a great way to help a child get himself back under control. 

Of course, there are children who don’t come to the home as infants. The child does not know that caretaking adults are available to help them calm down when they are upset.  The new caretakers must then teach them to calm down.  Couch time is a good way to start.  Having some small games or toys that can be played with on the couch or big chair sitting with you quietly is a good way to help the child calm down and synchronize to your heartbeat without feeling like they are giving up control.  Older children benefit from a parent who can sit still on the couch with them and watch television or listen to music.    

Time in for older children can also include sitting on the floor and sorting and matching socks or other clothes, cleaning tile grout with a toothbrush and baking soda  with a parent in the room, setting the table or cleaning the garage with a parent.  The key here is that the parent or caretaker must be present in the area.  This is NOT meant to be a punishment as it is a calming, regulating event to help the youngster get stronger and be able to get back to the business of being a kid. 

Carter, C.S. (2005) Biological perspectives on social attachment and bonding.  N S.S Carter, L. Ahenert, K.E. Grossmann, S.B. Hrdy, M.E. Lamb, S.W. Porges, & N. Sachser (Eds.), Attachment and Bonding: A new synthesis (pp. 85-100).  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  A comprehensive accessible overview of the role of hormonal systems in the development of the parent-infant bonding. 

Feldman, Ruth (2007) Biological Foundations and Developmental Outcomes.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 16, Number 6 pp. 340-345. 

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