Both of my boys have been extremely hyper today. It is clear their little brains have been spinning which causes their behavior to spiral out of control. They keep getting into trouble which means a lot of time spent in quieting practice. In case you are wondering what quieting practice is, I would like to tell you about this sanity-saving opportunity designed to reset their boisterous brains.
A couple of years back my husband and I changed how we handle discipline. Around the time we discovered Matthew exhibited symptoms of ADD/ADHD we knew we needed some useful solutions. Matthew was very hyper which meant he was in constant motion, incredibly impulsive, unable to focus or calm down and he ended up in trouble because he did not listen, stop or obey. Timeouts and other discipline techniques were not working. My husband and I felt like we were spinning on an out of control merry-go-round!
We realized, ultimately, one crucial skill was missing because my son was not able to effectively quiet himself. His inability to “down-regulate” and calm down was impacting every one of his relationships and every single interaction. In many ways, it is like trying to walk when you have a leg cramp. This is no easy task, and for my son, his brain was in a cramp, and he needed some relief!
For children with ADD or ADHD, it is much more difficult to quiet. Some brain regions are working too hard while other areas are not working hard enough. This means children need more practice to learn how to calm and quiet as well as learn to use the skill effectively in life and relationships. Even when children have learned the quieting skill we parents must help our children find the motivation to use it. Learning a skill and having the motivation to use it are separate issues and each requires persistent effort and clear guidance.
Now back to how we handle discipline issues. Instead of a “Timeout,” we frequently tell our boys to take a “Quiet Practice.” This means they must go to a designated chair and sit quietly and take some deep breaths to calm their body and thoughts. They are not allowed to talk or play with toys. We usually wait until they have been still and quiet for about 2 minutes then we release them. If they talk or interact, the time starts all over. If they “sit and stew” or look enraged all the while sitting still, the 2 minutes does not begin until it is obvious they are trying to calm themselves. Their designated seat is usually somewhere in the room with me, so I can see if they are quieting, but if they are both in quiet at the same time and interacting with each other, we send them to their separate rooms, so they no longer interact.
Sometimes Matthew and Andrew argue about going to quiet or, if they are angry, while walking to their quiet moment they will do something destructive or mean. This leads to what we call a “punishment” or “consequence.” In the past, when they did not obey, I would take away television privileges or toys for the day, but the problem was it was such a significant consequence I did not have additional options if they further disobeyed. We had to find a small enough consequence that I had enough options when they would rack up 10-15 on the way to their quiet destination! We had defined punishment as 5 minutes without toys though when we first started this process, we started with 2 minutes while they were getting used to the new system.
While there are still occasions when we use other kinds of consequences for behavior, this is our go-to system. What I enjoy about incorporating quieting into their consequences is this: no matter the reason they end up in trouble, they will benefit from quieting whether they are sad, mad, overwhelmed, or frustrated. While this is especially helpful for Matthew with his ADD, it is also beneficial for Andrew as well.
I am thankful to say that the day has improved after the boys spent much of their morning in quiet. They better regulate their emotions and are staying kind to each other. They are more grounded than before and the day has not spun out of control as it would have in the past. Now that they have practiced this skill for some time, I often say to Matthew, “You are getting hyper, go calm yourself, or you will end up in a longer quieting practice,” and he can calm down his energy levels before he needs a formal consequence. All of this has gone smoother because my husband and I first practiced quieting ourselves and spent a lot of time quieting with the boys when they were infants. Quite simply, every one of us benefits from some much-needed rest.
Discipline is a hot topic today because there are many strong opinions and different camps on what’s appropriate – or not. This can feel overwhelming. Additionally, many of us parents feel hopeless trying to find what works for our children. I find it helpful to remember that discipline is not so much about getting results. Instead, it is about guiding our children to learn how to manage and return to joy from distressing emotions, learn to stay themselves while feeling upset and learning right from wrong. These are gifts we can give our children and are a rewarding investment in their future.
This article was originally posted on Feb. 22, 2017.