time out

In 2008, I wrote a post called Getting There is Love. It was painful to write and, to this day, I find it nearly impossible to read without being swallowed whole by guilt and remorse. As much as I don’t want to revisit it today, I can’t help but feel pulled back to that place this morning.

Brooke is fascinated by the idea of time outs. We don’t use them, so perhaps that’s why. I tried with Katie once or twice when she was a toddler, but it just didn’t work for us. I tried once with Brooke but quickly realized that, for her, it was not only pointless in terms of teaching her anything, but it was actually harmful for her in that she was confused and overwhelmed by the exercise and did not connect it in any way to whatever her “offense” might have been. Nonetheless, many of the shows that Brooke likes to watch on Nick Jr and many of the stories that she loves to read again and again include time outs. One of her most oft-repeated scripts is from a Ni Hao Kai-Lan in which Hoho gets frustrated and hits Rintoo, prompting Grandpa Ye Ye to send Hoho to time out until he can calm down.

Brooke is a visual kid. Videos help to make the conceptual concrete. So when she finds something of interest, no matter what it may be, she searches for YouTube videos of it. So that’s what she recently did – she searched for toddlers in time out. She found a treasure trove of videos — pages upon pages of videos of small children, almost entirely toddlers, being sent, nearly all in tears, to corners and time out sofas and even a My Uh Oh Chair.

I don’t know how to say this. I don’t want to sit in judgement of anyone else’s choices. I know full-well that I’m precariously perched in my pretty glass house given how much I share every day, and even what I will go on to share later in this post. I walk a very, very fine line here between revealing just enough of my child’s life (with her consent to the degree that she is able to give it) to hopefully build understanding and acceptance for and of her without sharing enough to compromise her privacy, safety and comfort. I don’t doubt that, despite my best efforts, I’ve fallen on the wrong side of the line at times. I might be, according to some, about to fall on the wrong side of that line right now. We all draw the line in different places. I get that. And for that reason, one could make a pretty good argument that I have no right to say what I’m about to say. But then again, perhaps the very fact that I wrestle with this daily makes me uniquely qualified to say what I’m about to say. I’ll let you decide.

I see these little tykes in various states of distress in these videos, on display in the most public of forums in their very worst moments and my heart aches for them. For a lot of reasons. Here’s one.

While a typical toddler’s tantrum is very, very different from an autistic meltdown, they don’t always look so different to the unfamiliar eye. Especially in a little peanut.

One is about control.

The other is a loss of control.

One is testing boundaries.

The other is not feeling safe.

One is an attempt to manipulate.

The other is a cry for help.

And I watch these kids in the videos, no bigger than a minute, their faces streaked with tears, and I wonder … What if? What if they can’t control this? What if they are terrified? What if, while they are melting down, the person whom they trust to help them is, instead, taping the whole episode on their phone because … well … why? Because it’s cute? Because they think they’ll all laugh about it together later?

But what if? What if later, when they know more, it won’t be funny at all? What if that moment will, instead, haunt them day in and day out for years and years to come because they know now what they didn’t know then?

What if they, like me, just didn’t get it yet and it breaks their heart?

This is what I wrote in 2008 …

Brooke must have been three years old. She wanted her ballet slippers. I don’t know why, perhaps she was playing dress up, perhaps the moon was in the seventh house. Whatever the reason, she had it in her little head that she needed her ballet slippers.
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I looked around the house but I couldn’t find them. I didn’t think it was a big deal. I flippantly told her that the slippers were a no go. 
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I knew so little.
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She began to perseverate on one sentence. “I want my ballet slippers!” Over and over and over and over again. “I want my ballet slippers!” It would almost have been funny. But it wasn’t. It got louder. She got more anxious. “I want my ballet slippers!”
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I explained that I couldn’t find the slippers. I’m sure I offered an alternative. She fell apart. Sobbing, shaking, yelling – you know the rest. All the while, stuck in automatic rewind. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”
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I wasn’t going to stand for a tantrum. Oh hell no, not this mom. I don’t ‘do’ tantrums. Not in this house, child. I sent her to her room. 
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I just didn’t know.
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I had to walk her up there because she didn’t understand what I was saying. Or she couldn’t hear me. Or both.
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All the way up the stairs, “I want my ballet slippers!” Jagged sob after jagged sob. “I want my ballet slippers!” Her little body shook like a leaf in a hurricane.
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My dad’s words rattled around in the back of my head “You’re really quite lenient with those kids.”
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Oh yeah? Watch this, Pop. She will NOT get away with this kind of behavior.
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“I want my ballet slippers!” She could barely catch her breath, but there was no stopping the broken record. “I want my ballet slippers!”
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For heaven’s sake, enough with the %$&*!@ ballet slippers. I put her in her room. 
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I didn’t know. God, I just didn’t know.
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“I want my ballet slippers!” Gasp. Sob. “I want my ballet slippers!”  Over the screams, above the hoarse cry, I explained that she would stay in that room until she could calm herself down.
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Calm herself down. Jesus. I didn’t know.
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I walked away. She looked so small standing in the middle of her room. I choked back my own tears. I swallowed the sour taste in my mouth. I left her there screaming, overwhelmed, confused, lost.
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“I want my ballet slippers!”
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Gasp.
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Sob.
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”I want my ballet slippers!”
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I crouched against the wall at the bottom of the steps struggling to find the right thing to do. I can still feel that wall, cool, immovable against my back. I could barely breathe. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t know what.
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I thought of Ferber’s sleep method – let your child know they are safe and loved but leave them to soothe themselves. I went up again. I stood in her doorway and I told her she would be free to come out of her room when she got it together. I raised my voice in an attempt to be heard over her screams. “I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!” I told her I loved her. Then I told her that her behavior was unacceptable. I walked away again and left her screaming, her face streaked with mucus and tears.
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“I want my ballet slippers!” Her voice was breaking, but she didn’t stop.
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”I want my ballet slippers!”
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I was so frustrated. I was so angry. Why wouldn’t she just let it go?
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“I want my ballet slippers! I want my ballet slippers!”
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I went up again. I grabbed her by the shoulders, too hard. I squared her body to mine and chased her eyes. “Enough with the God damned ballet slippers!” 
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God, I didn’t know. I am so sorry. I didn’t know. 
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I thought she wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know she couldn’t stop. 
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I didn’t know there was a difference. I just didn’t know.
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She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me.
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I am so sorry.
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When we begin this journey as parents, we have no idea how much we don’t yet know – about our children, about ourselves, about the whole damned messy ball of wax. It’s been hard enough to have relived that moment again and again over these past eight years. I can only imagine how I’d feel — and, far more importantly, how Brooke would feel — were it all on video.
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So I guess what I’m trying to say is this …
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This is not, in any way, shape nor form, meant to be a condemnation of time outs. They are a very effective strategy for many families. I acknowledge that there are times when recording our kids, even in their toughest moments, can be necessary for sharing with therapists or others who can help us figure out how to best support them.  But …  if, while giving a child a time out to help them find their calm and gain some perspective, our first instinct is to grab our phones, hit record and put the video up on YouTube, perhaps we should take a moment to ask ourselves if we might benefit from doing the same.

19 thoughts on “time out

  1. Oh man. Reading that breaks my heart. I hear what you’re saying but I need to get this off my chest first: you’re an awesome mum. You may have made some mistakes and you will make mistakes in the future, because you’re human. We all make mistakes, even ones we can’t afford to make. But by god. You’re learning so much. And you’re sharing so much. I think that is what makes you different. You’re willing to share the unflattering bits about yourself first. You talk about the darkest deepest corners of your mind. And you don’t share anything about others that you wouldn’t be OK with sharing about yourself. That’s the difference.

    People who wouldn’t be OK with their partner posting videos of them having an emotional breakdown shouldn’t be posting videos of their kids doing the same. And I’m fairly sure that’s everyone.

    If you need those videos for sharing with therapists or getting support, sure. But keep them on your phone. On your hard disk. Somewhere where only you have access to them. Somewhere where you retain complete control of who gets to see it. As soon as you put it online, it’s there for people to copy, share, and use. It’s out of your hands. Don’t think that just because you delete a video from Youtube or Facebook, it’s gone. You have no control over who shares or downloads it.

    A perfect example of this is my sister-in-law, who posted the most adorable video of my 1 year old nephew on Facebook. She has incredibly strict privacy settings. You can’t even google her, let alone my nephew. Until the moment one of her closest friends, someone she trusted completely, thought the video was so incredibly cute (it was) that he shared it with HIS friends. On his completely public Facebook page. Where everyone could share it with THEIR friends.

    Think about that.

  2. My eyes are completely filled with tears after reading this… and I completely can relate to i. When we got our diagnosis, not all that long ago, so many people told me that “nothing had changed” but aside from the fact that there are now therapists in my house six days a week (which is a huge change!) and she’s getting such amazing help, it is so much easier for me not to lose my temper when she’s having a meltdown because now I know it’s not just to get her way. Now I’m not thinking “you’re too old for this.”

    And while I don’t have anything against time outs (we do use them since removing her to her room tends to calm her down almost instantly) I can’t imagine the point of recording them and posting them online…

    Anyways, thank you for sharing… I’m sure that as with me this resonates with many people who are reading it.

  3. I have been in a similar situation with the not knowing. But when we know better, we do better. Try to let go of the guilt….hard, I know.

    Like you, I don’t understand the need for putting that out there. If one must record it, that is their perogative, but I don’t agree with sharing it with the world.

  4. Total agreement with the videos on YouTube. For whatever reason, the Internet has enabled us to record and post videos of vulnerable people in vulnerable situations, stripping them of dignity and exposed to the world. It’s wrong. And it needs to stop. As far as the “I didn’t know” portion… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fervently prayed that my children won’t remember certain instances, where I, despite having the advantage of you and other blogs leading me, have forgotten that behavior is communication, where I’ve foolishly stood my ground for hours on something (usually in the middle of the night) only to discover that my child was just trying to communicate a need. And I panic and it’s hard to breathe when I read an autistic person say they can remember things from a very young age, because that’s the time of my biggest offenses, when I just didn’t know, or hadn’t gotten good at it yet. And still, when I think I do “get it,” I slip, and I mess up, and I once again rely on my childrens’ grace to pull us through it. It’s hard, and I’m not perfect.

  5. Jess, You’ve written it and I’ve read it, and my heart aches for you. I get it. I’ve been there. I am haunted by similar memories of moments of complete and utter frustration mixed with the obvious pain of a deeply hurt child. It is only with hindsight that we realize how wrong we were about what was going down.

    Now, you need to forgive yourself. Perhaps you can ask Brooke to forgive you for all the mistakes you’ve made up to now, and then accept her forgiveness at face value.

    You, Katie, Brooke, and Luau are very special people. Please don’t forget that you are on that list. HUG!

  6. We all make mistakes as parents, but when they come from frustration as we try to do what’s best for our kids, that’s part of parenting. We don’t like it, but it’s part of it. But to put your kid in time out for the voyeuristic pleasure of strangers on the internet? That’s just horrible, gross, and narcissistic. I might come back and comment a third time if I can’t get this out of my head.

  7. We record things for therapy, and for documentation, but I can’t imagine sharing moments of distress with the world. Not because they need to be hidden, but because in that moment what Baguette needs is protection. And posting those videos would be exposure, not protection.

  8. I agree that the recording seems really off base. I would like to say, though, that there are kids on the spectrum who are high functioning enough that they have both tantrums in an attempt to control/manipulate/etc just like typical kids and they also have meltdowns when they are out of control and need support. It becomes very challenging to have a consistent behavior plan when both of these are the case.

  9. I have never understood why people feel the need to share their child’s most distressing moments to the world, autistic or otherwise. Surely they must have something better to do… Have a wonderful holiday, you all deserve it!

  10. All of us , mothers of autistic kids have gone many or a few times throuh these moments.We know the pain, the anger.the frustration, guilt, despair and raise our heads to God for an answer, for a cure, a hope.By sharing and expressing all our feelings we know we are not alone. MAY GOD ALWAYS BE WITH US AND OUR KIDS TO EASE OUR WAY. HAPPY THANKSGIVING. THANKS FOR ALL AF THEM THAT ARE LOVED JUST AS THEY ARE.

  11. ” I did then what I knew how to do…Now that I know better I do better….” Maya Angelou

    I am appalled that people would put anything like this out there in the public, stranger domain…
    I have had my share of sensory meltdowns with two children.. It took time to figure out what they were…
    It all is a learning curve maybe so we can learn and help teach others…..
    You helped me today to reflect on where we are with my son and that what we are doing with regard to home education is working for now…He needs down time through the day. Learning broken into little chunks…Thanks to your post I can see it now.
    Peace

  12. What a great post, and something that I am trying to figure out how to deal with. What is the right way to help our children come down from that distress, when you really truly cannot find the ballet slippers? I take my son in his room and we sit together, I try to get him to punch pillows or find a quiet place, I try to help him calm down, but sometimes it just doesn’t work, and we are in there for half an hour or more. When he gets agitated like that, sometimes he might push or hit his siblings, and they can get distressed by his distress, so going to the room seems like the right thing. But what do we do or say when we get there?

    Also, I use time outs with my typical kids, they have proven extremely effective over spanking in terms of correcting behavior (my now four year old started spanking himself when he would do something “bad”, but he couldn’t stand time outs, so he quickly abandoned the bad behavior), but absolutely the posting on YouTube needs to be called out. I have recorded tantrums to show my husband, like maybe all of three times, but I hate watching them and remembering those moments so much that they are quickly deleted.

  13. I was just curious what form of “discipline” you use if you do not use time out? Time out does not seem to be working with my daughter and I need all the advice I can get. Love your blog, btw!

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