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Is Time Out At Daycare For Two Year Olds Effective?

My twenty-eight month old is frequently being put in time out at his Daycare. Today his behavior warranted the teachers to call me at work and report his "bad behavior".

Is this rational? I don't want my child to be labeled as a trouble maker at such a young age.

Is there anything that I can do?

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Day Care And Time Out
by: Annie Desantis

Hi,
To be honest, I think on the whole time out is misused. However, it is difficult in a daycare situation as they have lots of other children, and the ratio of adult to child means they can't have one of the carer's out of the mix sitting with a child that is acting up. They have a duty of care to keep other children safe - if the other child is biting or hitting etc, so time out is often the easiest solution.

How To Use Time Out Effectively


I see time out as a useful tool for both parents and children to re-group. Take a breath, sit quietly until each calms down, and time to reflect. Ideally with young children, Mom, Dad or the carer sits with the child until they are ready to either talk, or ready to go back and play.

Children need to learn how we gain control of our strong emotions, and sitting in time out on your own does not teach them anything except that they are being excluded. How does this help a child to learn better behavior?

Learning Skills To Handle Strong Feelings


A small child who is misbehaving is simply showing that he does not have the emotional maturity or skills to get control of his reactions. These are learned skills, they don't come naturally. Some children are much more placid or compliant and girls in particular seem to be more socially orientated, so are sometimes seen to be more socially adapted.

A child who is playing up also is showing they have unmet needs - either for attention, or for adult input to help them learn better ways of dealing with life.

You can read another article I wrote about misbehaving children here.

Please don't feel bad about your son, he simply has a bit of a learning curve to get control of his feelings and act more appropriately. I totally agree with you, labeling a child as a trouble maker or naughty is a terrible thing to do - at any age.

What Can You Do?


What can you do? It is extremely difficult to have much control at all over what is happening at daycare. Unfortunately you don't have any control over their methods of discipline, they will have their processes they use to try to manage a heap of kids.

Their resources simply don't stretch to giving him more one on one attention. And that is really what he needs. Kids act up when they have unmet needs or they are frustrated.

And a Day Care can only do so much. They will have activities available for learning and there is a huge amount of socialization opportunities
in a Day Care situation, but it also requires an adult to ease the way.

Part Two Follows . . .

Day Care And Time Out - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

What Happens At DayCare Is Their Problem!


Firstly, you can't deal with the Daycare issues. They have to deal with what is happening there. And horrible though it is you do need to be told, they have to inform you if there are problems. But don't get into double punishing your son, or giving him the third degree or lecture when he gets home. The situation should be deal with at Day Care and the last thing he needs is for you to drag it up and push him back into feeling horrible again. If he gets treated as a trouble maker by everyone he will start conforming to that role.

But it is helpful if you can open the door to him being able to verbalize what happened during his day. Although a two year old is not really going to have the skills to think back and express how he felt 5 hours ago when the teacher told him off, or little Sally took his favorite car.

If you happen to be at Daycare just after an incident, then you can sit with him and listen. Don't get into giving a big lecture, listen first.

Ask him opening questions about how HE felt. What happened to him that he got so frustrated he threw something, or pushed another child.

You have not given me any examples of his "bad behavior". It could be anything from being aggressive to other children, or not doing what he is told when the teachers want him to. We have some other questions answered about issues in Daycare, so you might find it helpful or reassuring to read them:

More Q & A On This Site


This is a question I answered about a Three Year Old In Trouble At Daycare.

And this question was submitted about a two year old pushing other children at Daycare, with my reply down the bottom of the page: Two Year Old Pushing.

You are obviously a very busy working Mom, and it is so hard to do it all. When you get home from work and picking up your son, you will be needing to get a meal on, hang out washing, get ready for the next day.

But I think you need to make it a top priority that either you or your husband spend loads of time with your son, playing games, building things, reading stories. It will be at the end of the day and likely he will be tired and may well act up a bit or let off steam. So a good time to be with him while he struggles to express himself or get control of his feelings.

Sometimes kids will "play out" the day, using toys to express what his day was like. Maybe little Lego people being mean to each other, or telling teddy off. It can be a good way for him to process the challenges of the day.

Part Three Follows . . .

Day Care And Time Out - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Feelings Are Instinctive


Learning to feel and act "nicely" is a tall order for a two year old.

Kids have to learn how to feel their feelings, which are often very overwhelming, and then react in a way that is not going to hurt anyone or themselves. It is not just a behavior thing, the little pathways have to grow in the brain.

Feelings are instinctive, survival orientated, and social adaptation is a learned skill. In the cave man days, reacting fast to a threat meant life or death. We are still hardwired this way, and have to learn to take a breath and choose more consciously how to act.

There are a huge number of adults running amok out there that have not developed those little neural pathways in their brain, and they simply
react and lash out or yell, or behave in ways that are destructive. But we have the expectation that our two year olds will be able to be "good".

Your little boy is simply reacting to the circumstances he is in and is not able yet to get control of his feelings and act in ways that are
more constructive.

Encourage Social Activities


If you can, have other children around at home, then you can deal with anything that comes up. Not by punishments - which only make people feel bad, they don't teach a new/better skill.

Yes, time out is useful to take a child out of a volatile situation or to protect other children.
But not in an angry way of "you sit in that corner until you can behave" He will have no idea how to do that. It is much more productive to sit with him and firstly help him to name and express his feelings.

Indentify And Expressing Feelings


Identifying how he feels is the first step to being able to move from reaction to control. Words and thinking about feelings is a different
function of the brain and moves a child out of just reacting. If he is still mad, then let him be mad, but just feed it back to him quietly:

"Looks like you are pretty mad right now"
"I'll just sit with you while you let off steam"
"You're really cross with Sally for taking your car?"
"I know it's frustrating when we want you to do something and you don't want to stop playing"
"Take a deep breath and let's sit here quietly for a few moments"

Then when he has calmed down a bit you can go on to tell him how you deal with things when you are angry. We get control (hopefully!) automatically, our kids don't see the steps we take to move from
reaction to conscious control and choice about how we behave. (And they also see us loosing control when we yell and react badly!)

"When I get mad sometimes I go outside and stomp my feet."
"There are lots of times I get really grumpy, so I take a deep breath and try to think about how I can be kinder"

Part Four Follows . . .

Day Care And Time Out - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

You can get him to help YOU get control. Ask him to be your reminder to take a breath, or take a break. The more you make things overt and help him to recognize strong feelings and think about other choices then the more he learns that for himself.

So next time you are getting grumpy, say that to him:
"I'm getting cross, what would be a better way for me to handle this?"
"I think I need some time out to take a breath and calm down. Can you count with me?"
"I need to do the Grumpy Dance to get all these grumpies out"
Then do a mad stomping dance with him around the kitchen. Guaranteed to end up in giggles!

Day Care Can Be Stressful


The more you can help him learn about feelings and make some better choices the more he will be better equipped to deal with the frustrations of Day Care. Day Care, whilst it can be fun, is also filled with a whole range of stresses for a little child. He may start the day feeling rushed - maybe being woken, having to eat breakfast before he might be ready, getting out of the house, leaving his favorite truck behind.

Being bombarded with all the stimulation of lots of other kids, other adults telling him what to do, when it may not be what he wants, and then loads of situations that may not be all that easy for him.

Set The Scene For Calm


So from his perspective, Day Care is also quite stressful. Try to set him up for the day so he is as calm as possible going into his day. If you have to wake him, then try to start putting him to bed a bit earlier, many kids are chronically short on sleep, so no wonder they are on a short fuse. Have morning routines that allow him enough time to transition and as much as possible keep them fun and lighthearted. If you are having battles in the morning getting out of the house, then that is contributing to him being out of sorts at Day Care.

Maybe he needs a quiet transition when he arrives, can you sit with him and read a story before you have to rush off, things like that may help him to connect and feel he has "arrived".

Part Five Follows . . .

Day Care And Time Out - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

You can't really do much about his behavior while he is there, that is their responsibility. But you can work with them to find ways to help him to cope better. And that does not mean you giving him a big lecture about playing nicely at Day Care, or telling him off.

Is There Any Pattern?


Ask if there is a pattern to his behavior - is it when they want him to move to another activity, is it with a particular child, is it when he is getting stressed or hungry. They might be able to head off a situation before he loses control - but that does require having the staff available to keep an eye on him.

If you ask more questions about what sets him off, you may be able to offer suggestions as to what you do that works if he does something similar at home. But really you can't fix his behavior when he is not with you, you are not there, you don't see what happens, and putting a heap of pressure on him to be a good boy at Daycare today is not going to help. You can have some general conversations with him about what he likes best, what are the hardest things about Daycare. You can offer some ideas about what he might do differently if he gets cross or someone takes his toys.

Developing Empathy


You can help him to develop some empathy about how others might feel by sharing with him when your feelings are hurt. If he won't share his Lego with you, exaggerate your expression and look sad and tell him, it makes me sad when you don't want to share your toys with me. But forget about telling him off for anything he has done at
Daycare that day. It is in the past, it is over. Instead help him to focus on building better skills to cope with frustrations.

Just enjoy your little boy, your time with him is very precious. Kids learn through play, so don't underestimate how important this time is with him. Much more important than having a bath every day, more important than having clean clothes. Leave the chores until he is asleep, and just have as much fun with him as you can.

All the best,
Annie D :)

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