Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Review: Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm


I usually eschew most how-to-parent books, or at least take them with a grain of salt. I believe that, while all parents have their parental challenges, ours tend to be different than most quote-unquote typical, normal families, thanks to having a child with Asperger Syndrome and a sibling dealing with the fallout. But there was something about Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm that spoke to me from the New Releases shelf at the library, saying, "read me ...read me now ...." The cover of the book also proclaims "Tame Tantrums, Calm Fears, Instill Good Sleep Habits, End Food Battles, Overcome Potty Problems."

OK, sign me up. We could use assistance in three of those areas. Still skeptical, I decided to give the book a try.

And I'm glad I did. Author and child psychologist Beth A. Grosshans identifies four parental types: Pleasers, Pushovers, Forcers, and Outliers. I saw aspects of myself in all four categories, but Grosshans says that you are primarily one single type. She identifies communication styles of these parents, and how your words are heard by the cherubs in charge (and make no mistake about it, they are indeed in charge. Like that scene between Tony and Carmela Soprano in Episode 16 when, exasperated at daughter Meadow, Tony says, "Let's not overplay our hand -- if she figures out we're powerless, we're fucked." The Dean and I love that line.)

Indeed, the concept of an imbalance of family power (IFP) is what frames Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm. Most families are suffering from IFP, born about because of the current parenting culture. By changing how we parents communicate to our kids, it's possible to reverse this - which is imperative, according to Grosshans, because IFP festers and creates bigger issues down the road.

So let's take yours truly as an example. I believe I'm a Pushover parent. When confronted with "You're a mean Mommy!" or "You're being so unfair!", I tend to take these remarks personally. "Pushover parents, when confronted by resistance and protest in any form from their children, characteristically end up giving in with an air of resignation. They shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, or throw up their hands as if to say, there's nothing more I can do .... Pushovers grope for power. Not feeling they have any of their own, they resort to the power and authority of others to gain cooperation. They warn of what will happen if their child doesn't behave. "Santa won't bring you any toys." ... They try to add weight to their parental directives by invoking authorities the child does respect: "You know the doctor said you have to eat your vegetables to be healthy." .... Pushovers also tell their children a litany of things that could go wrong and a host of dangers and bad things that could befall them if they don't listen to their parents" "Wash your hands before you eat. Remember, germs can make you very sick."

Children are very skilled in listening to what isn't being said when a parent says, "I just don't know what to do with you," or "Your teacher said you need to read for 15 minutes ..." They're hearing that you, as parent, have outsourced your power. You have none. They know this and they are more than ready to seize it. The problem with sharing potential consequences of what could happen ("Stop jumping on your bed! You're going to crack your head open.") is that what parents' proclaim could happen rarely does - adding fuel to the child to continue his or her misbehavior.

Grosshans gives her reader concrete examples of what to say instead, and the tone in which they should be said. I've been trying this for the past few weeks, and I think that there's been a subtle change for the better. She also advocates and outlines a disciplinary approach called The Ladder, which is where most of the criticism of Beyond Time-Out falls, because it does, in fact, involve placing the child in time-out. In one sense, it seems hypocritical to promote a book based on the premise that parents really do have something in their arsensal besides the oft-used and noneffective method of time-out, and I think those criticisms are valid. But it is the methodology of what comes before the time-out, and what happens during, and after, that is the most value to parents.

Another of the more controversial points of Beyond Time-Out comes when implementing rung 5 of Grosshans' Ladder approach. Grosshans advocates a technique called the "parental hold." This is the part of the book that nearly made me stop reading. Having worked in a residential facility for people with disabilities and having to deal with several PR inquiries from national media about our practices for restraining clients based on tragedies occurring at other facilities, it's an issue that I am somewhat aware of. I think that parents need to make a judgment call as to whether implementing a Parental Hold is right for them. Some kids are physically stronger than their parents, so this might not be practical. Here's what I did recently (not saying this is the correct means, but it's what worked in this instance).

Friday night, Betty and I were heading out to a Girl Scout function. The outfit she wore to school would have been fine, but she wanted to change into a dress. That required the need for stockings, given that the temperature was in the 30s, if that. There were no clean stockings in Betty's armoire, sans a pair with a hole in a spot that would not be seen. Wearing such damaged goods was horrifying to Betty, and she made that known. Attempting to use Beyond Time-Out language, I gave Betty a choice: she could wear those stockings with a dress, or she could find an alternative outfit. She screamed, threw a fit, and I put her in time-out. After about 10 minutes, I came upstairs to find her still upset, and gave her a tight hug (my version of the Parent Hold.)

"I'm sorry, Mommy," she whispered. "I just don't know what to do. I'm sorry."

I presented the options. Betty calmly returned to her closet, and together we picked out a shirt and pants. We resumed dinner, went to the Girl Scout event, and had an enjoyable (albeit rather chaotic, thanks to inadequate special event-planning on the part of the organizers) evening. This incident could have led our evening in a whole 'nother direction.

Bottom line: I'm giving Beyond Time-Out 4 stars for its practicality and for providing concrete examples of how to handle certain situations. I liked the descriptions of the different parental styles, and I would recommend this for parents struggling with power-and-control issues with their children. This rating, though, is given with strong criticism of Grosshans' somewhat dismissive attitude of issues such as autism spectrum disorders as well as sensory integration disorder. Clearly, these issues are not Grosshans' realm of expertise and I would hope that, when presented in her practice with families coping with such issues that Grosshans would refer them elsewhere. Beyond Time-Out doesn't promise easy solutions, or that her approach is the right one for your family, but it does provide other techniques to try when you're feeling powerless as a parent.

1 comment:

Laura said...

LOL Tony is a wise man.

Sounds like a book I could use. I'm a pushover and my husband a forcer, so we're constantly clashing and nothing seems to be working, including timeouts.