By Laura Hurstfield
“Arsenic Hour” is the term used to describe the period between getting the kids home from school and getting them into bed.
“Arsenic Hour” is the time when kids are often tired, hungry, and irritable and parents are often stressed and exhausted. Midway through making your Bechamel sauce you hear the slap of skin against skin and the follow up shriek “Mum, Mum Jordan hit me” followed by “Mum she pinched me first”, you shout from the kitchen, “Daniel don’t hit your sister, Kayleigh don’t pinch your brother”, back to the Bechamel until you can hear the muttering get louder and start wondering “why on earth did you not just buy the jar?”
Often we get unwanted behaviour when our kids need something. Maybe they are tired, unwell, or just cannot verbalise what they need from us, it might just be our time they want. In many families around the world Time Out has been used in similar scenarios to the one above to de–escalate and support the kids to self–regulate. This is a great tool and I have had many of my clients use Time Out successfully as a regulation tool which is its purpose, you may be surprised to hear it is not designed as a punishment.
We have probably all experienced the heated discussion which becomes an argument and each party shouts louder and louder and the situation escalates out of control. Time Out would be a great tool to bring everyone back to a regulated state and have a sensible discussion. Unfortunately, during “Arsenic hour” when tensions run high parents often resort to Time Out in punishment mode rather than as a regulation tool. The difference being that they shout the instruction to go to Time Out, they set the timer for 12 minutes, instead of 2 and when the timer is finished, whilst the child is probably now regulated, the parent then demands they apologise to them, their sister and the dog, then states they won’t get TV time tonight for being so naughty so that nicely regulated child is now becoming escalated again. So, forget the Bechamel sauce here comes Round 2!
Time Out is not just a case of putting a child in a corner or in their room, out of the way. It’s not meant to be punitive it is a tool to help children learn to self–regulate and not escalate to violence. Time out should be the last resort if all your other strategies have failed to hit the spot on this occasion. You also need to have the discussion with them about Time Out, its no good when things suddenly escalate then you shout, “go to Time Out” and they don’t know what Time Out is, so things get louder, and everyone gets a little angrier.
Time Out needs to be explained to the family members, so everyone knows what it means and what is expected, unlike The Super Nanny in the UK, Time Out is not recommended at one minute for each year of age, that is a very long time, recommended time is 2–3 minutes maximum. They just need to be in a spot away from siblings and family members, so they are not being escalated further, we don’t constantly remind them why they are in Time Out or what they did or that they must apologise when they come out. Good tips are to give them an egg or kitchen timer to the set time and show them some breathing exercises at another less stressful time, so they have some tools to use to regulate. Once their 2–3 minutes are up without them escalating further, just ask them to re–join the family or activity they were doing, and do not discuss what happened otherwise re–escalation may occur. The idea being to regulate themselves not to punish them.
Hopefully as they get older they can recognise when they are escalating and use breathing or other techniques to self–regulate without the need for Time Out. Recognising emotions and having the language for emotions helps immensely with this and the emotional language becomes more complex as they get older.
Would Time In have made a difference?
Would leaving the Bechamel sauce to thicken to inedible stodge on the stove and going to the other room, being in the space with them, asking face to face what’s going on for you rather than shouting from the kitchen have made a difference?
Time In happens when you do dedicate some time to be in the space with them, done regularly Time In supports attachment and communication between parent and child. Just 10mins child led play a few times a week (no answering mobiles or running to check on the chicken) can make a huge impact on family life. Set some ground rules, be clear you are playing for 10mins, setting a timer on your phone or get an old fashion kitchen timer, when the timer goes off its time to do other things. Child led plays means you let your child tell you where the train, doll, Lego block goes or how to colour in the picture. For those of us who find “make believe” play difficult, child led play is often less confronting with the child directing you for the period of play.
Time In can be as simple as just “being with” your child, being interested in what they are interested in, it may mean learning the names of all the Paw Patrol characters or the names of the dinosaurs or in my case the names of the all the characters in The Little Mermaid and later the One Direction band members. Time in can be connecting and communicating or it can be affection and closeness, remember if you are not comfortable with affection your child will pick this up so go with the level of affection you are both comfortable with.
Time In is not helicopter parenting it is saying it’s a great picture they have drawn as you walk by with yet another load of laundry, but let’s up the ante a little. As the adult we are supposed to know what the picture or block building is even if we don’t have clue. So that we don’t make this obvious, we won’t ask them what it is maybe just mention the part we like, “I love this blue part tell me about that”, jvust pick a part you like and ask about it and then ask them what is their favourite part, this small and seemingly insignificant conversation to us will be huge to them, you like the blue part and you are interested in what they like, just watch them beam with pride. Then of course, the said picture has to hang on the fridge for weeks to show Grandma and Aunty Sally and the babysitter until it fades in the sun, or the paint has dried so much it peels off all over the floor.
Additionally, some children with additional needs do not fare well in Time Out, other options for self–regulation are; sensory bags; a great idea for children with additional needs, a canvas tote bag with things like stress balls, rubber chew toys if they are biters, fidget spinners, playdough, kinetic sand in a sealable bag, or Popits. There are hundreds of options available online and in local stores, pick things that your child is comfortable with and you are comfortable with them having – you may not want them to have Kinetic sand unsupervised!
You will know what tools and strategies work and what don’t, you may have to swap some of those tools around as they get older, but remember you are the expert in your child, parenting professionals can give you the tools, tips and tricks but we don’t know your child like you do!
Lastly but most importantly and that you as a parent get some Time Out whether that’s just 10mins to have a cuppa and read a magazine in peace or an hour walk along the beach, a yoga class, or a coffee with friends. We cannot fully give Time In if we haven’t had our own Time Out to recharge and restore.
Laura Hurstfield has 20yrs experience as a Social Worker and Parenting Practitioner. Providing Parenting Programs such as Triple P Positive Parenting Program,123 Magic & Emotion Coaching and Circle of Security. In 2013 Laura won the accolade of International Triple P Practitioner. Laura offers 1:1 and group programs. Find out more: www.hurstfieldconsulting.com.au