Dear Kid Whisperer,
I was wondering if you could discuss the idea of “Utilizing the Recovery Process?” Thank you!
When your child is having a tantrum or acting in such a way that you just can’t take it and you need her to go away, I would strongly suggest that you avoid “time-out” like the plague and instead use the Love and Logic® option of Recovery. In my years as a teacher, principal, discipline specialist, and consultant, I have found time-out to be worthless with difficult kids, and I have found Recovery to be a life-saver.
2. With empathy and without haste or anger, say these words: “Oh man. This is sad. Are you going to be able to follow our rules or do you need to take a break in recovery?”
3. Pray that she gets louder and angrier. If you are not successful in your prayer, a miracle occurs, and she becomes calm and respectful, we’re done, but be disappointed that she may not have learned enough and will have to fail more miserably at a future date.
4. When she gets louder and angrier, say these words, “Oh man. This is sad. I want you to go to recovery and I want you to go now. Feel free to come back as soon as you are ready to follow our rules. I want you to be here with us.”
“BUT WAIT,” you say, “SHE CAN COME BACK WHENEVER SHE WANTS? WHAAAAT!?!?!?!?”
Yes. This is the significant difference between time-out and Recovery, which almost always works. In addition, Recovery actually allows us to be more strict and more loving at the same time. Time-out, or forcing a child to be in a room or area for a certain or indefinite period of time, is not effective because it is usually not a logical consequence , feels punitive, and gets kids locked into the threat cycle. In other words, when you do this, your daughter has the opportunity to place her anger on the fact that you have, from her skewed perspective, “for, like, no reason at all” locked her away. You then have given your daughter plenty of time and space to plot out new and interesting ways to plan your demise. This would be bad. Back to the process…
5. Pray that she refuses to go.
6. If she happens to go willingly (more on what to do if she doesn’t in a bit), just go about your day. If she comes back and is pleasant, great! It worked, but again, be a little disappointed that she isn’t going to learn as much as she would if she would have continued with her meltdown. If she stays in recovery, great! Problem solved. Watch TV. Frolic. Have a snack.
7. If she comes back and is obnoxious, thank a higher power, for she has unwittingly enrolled in a master level class entitled “Things I am Going to Learn Not to Do.” Simply repeat the line from step number four and repeat steps five and six over and over until she either stays in her room or starts exhibiting acceptable behavior in the common areas of your home.
8. On the very rare occasion that she goes willingly to her room and is again immediately obnoxious fifteen to twenty times or so, to the point that it has become a game to her, say these words: “Oh man. This is sad. We’re going to have to do something about this… try not to worry about it.” At a later time and probably a later date, you can devise a logical consequence for this behavior. Anyone can feel free to ask me a question about the skill of delaying consequences and how to create quality consequences. Just ignore the behavior for the rest of the night. If she is not being dangerous, you can avoid her by going to your room to watch a movie. The delaying of the consequence should simmer her down a bit. Don’t worry, this is the last time that you will have to ignore this obnoxious behavior.
9. The next day, at a calm moment, sit her down and have a conversation that should go something like this:
Mom: How do you think things went yesterday?
Daughter: (unsurprisingly obnoxious) I don’t know.
Mom: Oh. How sad not to know. To me, you seemed to be pretty mean and angry. This must be very sad for you. I have recently decided to only be around people who are calm and kind. How many times did you decide to come back from recovery to act angry and mean?
Daughter: I don’t care!
Mom: How sad not to care. Eighteen. You came back eighteen times and were angry and mean. I’m not sure that this is a reasonable amount of times to go back and forth to your room. Your father and I went into our room to watch a movie because we have decided to only be around people who are being calm and kind, and we were being very nice to each other. I understand that sometimes your day has become so hard for you that you feel that you can’t be calm and kind. How many times do think you need to go to recovery in one day before you are showing us with your choices that you can’t be around people any more that day?
Daughter: (exasperated) I don’t know… four?
Mom: OK then, four it is. If you choose to go to recovery four times, then you are saying “Mom, Dad, I can’t be with you today, I can’t be calm and kind. I will try again tomorrow.” You will then spend the rest of your day in recovery since being around people is too difficult for that day. Sounds fair. Thanks for talking with me.
From that point on, you will no longer have to ignore obnoxious behavior. Your daughter will test this and she will probably hit her limit once or twice in the first week. Remember, this is good! She has to make mistakes in order to learn. Remember, these mistakes are her responsibility and make sure you model kind and calm behavior as you empathetically enforce this limit!
The difference between recovery and time-out on this point is that in time out, the adult is rather haphazardly deciding when they have had enough. At that point the adult decides that the child must go away and the adult decides how long. It is arbitrary and punitive, which enrages kids unnecessarily. In other words, who is to say that a certain negative behavior should land a kid in time out for “x” amount of time? With recovery, the child chooses when they go because they know that, in this case, being angry and mean is a ticket to recovery. There are no warnings and no lectures. Angry and mean behavior = recovery. You are the scorekeeper here, not a referee. Think about how often you’ve gone to a sporting event and gotten angry at the referee. How many times do you get angry at the scorekeeper? Recovery sets you up to be a scorekeeper, not a referee.
When we use recovery, we are telling the children in our care that we love them too much to let them act out and we are also telling them that we love ourselves too much to subject ourselves to annoying and rude behavior.
Remember, “Yeah, but…” and “What if?” me!
-The Kid Whisperer