Saturday, May 30, 2009


For someone who has been teaching parenting all year, I have been fairly poor at passing along tips. All apologies! Now that my internship is ending, I suddenly feel in a frenzy to write down all of the skills I learned so that I have them immortalized and available for future reference. Although each kiddo is different and I can't promise that this will work with all children, the following time-out system has undergone intense academic research and its efficacy is statistically significant (for those of you who care about things like that)!

This entry is going to be a play-by-play of a somewhat condensed version of the time-out sequence I teach to parents in the Durham community. It is important to note that prior to teaching parents how to execute a successful time-out sequence, I spend weeks and weeks teaching them how to play with their children, in order for them to create a super positive relationship that will be the foundation for successful discipline.

TIME-OUT! ...and how to do it.

First of all, it's important to note that according to Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), which is where this system came from, all good time-outs begin with a solid command and end with specific praise.

A solid command means that you take out the "can you" or "will you please" and simply state what you need your kiddo to do, for example, "Joe, please put your cars in the bin". A good command provides no options (which are introduced when you say "can you..."), and it should be direct and polite. I also encourage parents to state the command in a very neutral tone, because we want kids to know that they are expected to follow through immediately even when they are not yelled at. At school and other settings, children will not be yelled at (hopefully), so socializing them to success in society means that kiddos need to know how to respond to commands - even when they are delivered calmly.

Let's use the example, "Megan, please turn off the T.V.". The time-out sequence I teach looks like the following:

The parent gives a direct command: "Megan, please turn off the T.V."

If she complies? "Thank you for listening! I love it when you follow directions!" (Specific praise). And back to whatever else was going on. Sequence over.
Non-compliance? Start counting to five: "One, two, three, four, five".

Compliance before you finish counting? "Thank you for listening! I love it when you follow directions!" Sequence over.
Still no compliance when you finish counting: Give a time-out warning: "Megan, you have two choices (hold up two fingers for visual learners). You can either turn off the T.V., or you need to go to time-out".
Start counting to five one more time: "One, two, three, four, five".

Compliance before you reach five: "Thank you for listening! I love it when you follow directions!" Sequence over.
Still no compliance after you reach five: "Megan, you have chosen not to listen. You need to go to time-out". Take arm gently (or pick up if child is small and kicking and screaming), and put in a time-out chair. Say, "Megan, you need to stay here until I tell you it's time to come out". Walk away and calmly do something else, keeping an eye on the child to make sure that he or she stays in the chair. Breath deeply if you feel yourself getting upset. Ignore attempts from your kids to negotiate or argue the time-out, and make sure that your child stays in the time-out chair. There is no faster way to lose your power than to let your child be in charge of when he or she gets off the chair.

After THREE minutes of ignoring your child in time-out (younger children may need to start with a shorter time and work towards three minutes, which is called "shaping" behavior), wait until there is a quiet pause if the child is fussing, go back to the chair and ask, "Megan, are you ready to turn off the T.V.?".

If the answer is "no", respond, "Then you need to stay in time-out until I tell you it's time to come out". Walk away and ignore for another three minutes. Then loop back to previous question...
If the answer is "yes", or if the child gets up and makes her way back to the T.V. with the intention of following through with the command, wait until she turns off the T.V. and then give her a specific praise, "Thank you Megan for doing what I asked. Now we can read a book together". Sequence over.

WHEW! That was a lot. In summary, the sequence is:
  1. Give a direct and polite command.
  2. Count to five, "one, two, three, four, five".
  3. Time-out warning: "You have two choices, you can either *original command* or you need to go to time-out.
  4. Count to five again, "one, two, three, four, five".
  5. "You have chosen not to listen. You need to go to time-out". Take child to the chair and say, "You need to stay here until I tell you it's time to come out".
  6. Walk away, and actively ignore child for three minutes. Return to child and ask, "Are you ready to *do original command*?". If yes, follow the child's compliance with a specific praise; if no, leave child for another three minutes and loop back to the beginning of this step.
Whenever your child chooses to follow directions at ANY point in this sequence, give an enthusiastic labeled praise and end the sequence. The fewer the lectures during the sequence, the more potent it will be. Although I have given some fairly detailed instructions on how to implement a time-out sequence in your home, frankly, kiddos learn pretty quickly and after a few times of sitting in the time-out chair, simply giving the direct command and then starting to count out loud to five will be enough to get things moving.

And that is the simplified version of the time-out sequence I teach to parents. Just to revisit and recap, key aspects of successful time-outs include the following:
  • Make sure that your command (what you tell your child to do) is developmentally appropriate. Time-out is for disobedience, not for misunderstanding, so if your child does not understand what you are asking her to do, she should not be punished for it. This sequence works best when kiddos are fairly verbal - maybe 2.5 or 3 years old, until about 8 or so.
  • Time-out is beautiful because it is a firm way to be the boss without yelling or hitting. Time-out is based on the principle that the very worst punishment for kids is pure boredom (which... in 99.9% of cases is pretty accurate).
  • Because boredom is the key to time-out, the time-out chair should not be close to anything that your child can touch or play with while they are sitting out their three minutes. If time-out is fun, it loses its power.
  • Most kiddos do best with an explanation of why they are being asked to do something. If you decide to give a reason, give it before the command (for example, "Megan, it's time for dinner. Please turn off the T.V."). If you give a solid command, and then humor your child's digression into negotiations and explanations, you lose the original purpose of your command. If you need to give an explanation, do it right before the command, or after time-out is complete. Once the clear and direct command is given, the best way to assure compliance is to follow through and calmly and actively ignore crying, whining, or protests.
  • After I explain the time-out sequence to parents, I always tell their kiddos what the new system will be, and I have kiddos practice going to the time-out chair "quick as a rabbit, and quiet as a mouse" when they are NOT in trouble, just to practice. Then, when they are given a direct command in context and mom or dad gives them the time-out warning ("you have two choices; you can either _____ or you need to go to time-out"), they know what will be coming up next. Under the circumstances, kiddos are not always in the state of mind to go to time-out quick as a rabbit and quiet as a mouse, but the power of preparation and teaching can't be underestimated!
  • Last but not least, the positive opposite of time-out is to identify and quickly give labeled yet simple praises for good behavior that occurs sporadically throughout the day. One of the best ways to channel kiddo energy in good directions is to help them make the magical connection of "good behavior=positive attention" and "bad behavior=no positive attention". Although time-out is a great way of pulling away attention for bad behavior, linking good behavior with positive reinforcement will pay off big time in the long run.
Whew! You've made it to the end. If you have any questions, make a note in the comment box, and I can follow up with things I might have missed. It seems complicated, but if you are interested in trying it out, let me know and I can coach you through the rough spots!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Swapping shoes and I love yous

Last night we went over to our friends the Hill's home, to help them pack some boxes in preparation for their move next week. As we were winding things down at the end of the evening, Marcos put on my slippers to run outside with Jason for a moment, and left his own tennis shoes at the door because they were a bit cumbersome to pull on. When Kim, their two-year old daughter Kinsey and I came to the door a minute later, it took us a moment to realize that my slippers were missing because Marcos had switched his out for mine. After a minute he returned, we swapped shoes, and went home.

Today we received an email from Kim that cracked us up! It read,

"So today Kinsey was talking about you guys coming over last night. This is what she said...

Kinsey-'Marcos stole Metta's shoes and ran away.'
Me-'He came back though, huh.'
Kinsey-'Yes, because I love him.'
Kinsey-'Marcos is cute.'

Thanks again for all your help!"

There is some very cute competition for me over here in Chapel Hill...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Wanderlust, anyone?

I have been planning a dream adventure for months. Dream, as in, I wasn't sure if it was going to happen this year.

This is my dream: Swiss railway journeys...

However, I'm starting to think that we may be able to pull it off. Two weeks ago our friend Emili introduced us to and I have been exposed to some mind-blowing airfares. I have the site cued in to show me the prices of flights out of the Raleigh/Durham airport, and I have access to a constantly updated list of the best airfares out of North Carolina.

After doing some research I have figured out that the best way to have the dream adventure is to wait until September, right after the high travel season in Europe is past. But for now? I have been keeping myself busy with a cute little round trip airfare to San Francisco for $122. Yes, you read that right. It's almost too cheap to resist.

Wanderlust, anyone?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just the Wrong Person

Courtesy of iStock photos.

"YOU read this book. Downstairs, by yourself". He folded his arms and looked away, a pout on his 4-year old face.

Was this really the thanks I was getting for my hours of making up stories, tickle games, playing with trains and being an overall very fun person? All that for this?

But really? It was just a reminder of an aha! moment I had years ago. Back when I had a six-week stint as a nanny in 2002, and that long weekend two years ago watching our friend's kiddos as they trekked it to IKEA... it was all a version of the same story: I come stay with kiddos while parents are either busy or away. I am fun. I try hard. After some time I am rejected (either obviously or subtly) by kiddos. I wonder if I do something wrong. I realize that I am just the wrong person, because I am not the mother of the kiddos. The younger the kiddo, the quicker the rejection.

And that seems to be what it comes down to in most cases. I have seen from some long-term childcare experiences that regardless of my energy to entertain, regardless of my well-practiced imitation of competence, and regardless of my coolness, at the end of the day I am just the wrong person. I am not their mom.

Which is why I never take it personally anymore.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reading for pleasure

It's finally time in my life to read for pleasure again. Not that I necessarily despised the scores of journal articles, text books and clinical handbooks that have been stuffing our bookshelves, but what a breath of fresh air to finally pick up a book that has nothing to do with academics!

Representing almost the extreme opposite genre, my two current reads are "Nesting: It's a Chick Thing", and "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking", a great bread book that my Aunt Katy sent as a graduation gift. Because I have been known to post about things I've read and have found a passion for, I'll share tips from these two books as well!

Tip of the day from "Nesting: It's a Chick Thing". Before you stop reading, let me just say that this book has actually been really fun to dig into. Marcos and I will be abandoning ship at the end of July and setting up home in a new apartment all of three minutes down the street, so in mental preparation for the process of recreating our living space, I have loved reading about other people's home improvement ideas. One tip I came across that I like is, "Mix it up. Never, never one-stop-shop when decorating a room. You'll wind up with a hypercoordinated, boring space. Instead, mix high-end investments with flea market finds for a personalized 'collected over time' look".

And I can't resist: a classic note by Zsa Zsa Gabor...

" I am a marvelous housekeeper.
Every time I leave a man, I keep his house."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Strawberry Picking

When my mom first arrived in North Carolina for my graduation, I was honestly a bit worried that we would run out of things to do over the course of the three weeks she was visiting. On the contrary, I have been more exhausted the past few weeks since graduating than I ever had been during classes. Between the hot days, and the running around, and the walks, and the working (part-time), and the cooking sessions, volunteering, attending plays and festivals, reading and gardening, I'm tuckered earlier and earlier each night...

One day last week as we were driving around, we spontaneously decided to follow a tantalizing sign that read "strawberries", until the trail ended at a u-pick farm. Here are pictures from our adventure, and a glimpse of how gorgeous North Carolina is, just ten minutes from downtown Chapel Hill. Visitors welcome.

Graduation weekend, Part 3

University of North Carolina Commencement Exercises. This took place on Sunday morning, May 10th, and it was clear that the occasion was more geared towards the undergraduates than us graduate students, but I am glad that we went. Here are the six students from my program who showed up for the third and final event of graduation weekend.

The Commencement Exercises were held in Kenan Stadium, which is the home of our football games. The undergraduates at UNC wear Carolina blue robes, and here is the beginning of their procession down the bleachers.

Fortunately, the graduate students had seats front and center down on the grass. Here is Jason Hill during our processional. The band was playing some nostalgic graduation song.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was our Commencement Speaker. He has been an active fighter for peace, and racial and social justice in South Africa.

Sunday was Mother's Day, and some of the undergraduates had come prepared. The signs say, "We love our moms". Below is the Clef Hangers singing James Taylor's "Carolina in my Mind". James Taylor is a native of NC, and the Clef Hangers did a great rendition of the song.

After the last shabang, the band continued to play, and everyone was very occupied, so Jason and I walked around and took pictures near the stage.

A common scene this weekend: Marcos, dad, Emili and my mom waiting patiently for me to finish chatting, taking pictures, etc. Dad and Emili, thank you so much for driving down to celebrate graduation with us! Please come again soon.

Graduation weekend, Part 2

The last post featured photos from the Saturday morning Master of Social Work Hooding Ceremony. This post, Part 2, is another series of pictures, this time from the friends and family party Kim and Marcos organized for Saturday afternoon.

Meet our entire (mainly) Family Home Evening group, past and present (and future, as you can see). From the left is Kokoro, Chris and baby Ren Angell, who came back to UNC from Berkeley, so that Chris could join his Ph.D. in physics cohort as they walked at graduation last weekend. Next over is Marcos and me, and then Alicia Whittier and Korven (Drew is M.I.A., as are the Heatons). Then Nick and Nicole Empey, and last but not least, Kim, Kinsey and Jason Hill. Jason just graduated with me from the School of Social Work.

A few months ago I was telling a friend at school about our Family Home Evening group that meets every Monday night, and she looked at me incredulously, "You meet with the same people every week?! Doesn't that get boring?" Not in the slightest!

Kim and Kokoro looking pretty. Yay for Kim's mom, who came from New Mexico for graduation, and made this UNC cake. WOW!

Nick and Nicole. We'll be celebrating like this again in about... three or four years when Nick finishes up his Ph.D. program. Below is Emili, who is the world's best helper, with her busy hands and incredible hostessing skills.

Chris with his 6-month old son Ren. Below is Jason and his mom, who also came out from New Mexico. We grilled shoyu chicken (this recipe just needs to be shared soon, it's so good...), bar-b-que chicken, and Marcos made Greek shish kabobs with steak and summer veggies. Mmmmm....

King Korven (1), and little Kinsey (2 1/2).

When the Angells were still in Chapel Hill, this was the kiddo trio. Saturday's party was the first time these three have been reunited in five months.

Interestingly, Ren is half of Korven's age, but a few pounds heavier (each guy hits the opposite end of the spectrum). Korven decided to test out Ren's rolls by sinking his six new teeth into Ren's back. It didn't initially go across so well, but they made up.

Chris and Kokoro, we loved having you out for graduation! Come back soon!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Graduation weekend, Part 1

It's over! I was exhausted before graduation weekend began, but it actually ended up being really fun. Because this blog serves the dual purpose of being a personal record of my life as well as keeping family and friends near and far up-to-date on the happenings of the North Carolina branch of the Prieto/Pratt-Bosley clan, I should let you know that I fully plan to put a rediculous number of photos on the next few posts of graduation weekend. Hey. I earned it.

On Saturday morning (May 9th), the Master of Social Work hooding ceremony was held at the UNC Memorial Hall. It felt kind of important to be sharing a stage that people like Yo-Yo Ma and the Bolshoi Ballet have traipsed across.

Family pictures: Dad and Emili drove down from New Jersey for the celebrations, and mom flew in from Hawaii for three weeks.

The inside of Memorial Hall. Fascinating, I know. We have some shots of the hooding, but they were generally blurry and unpleasant, so I'm ommiting them. Below is Jack Richmond, dean of the School of Social Work.

Having grown up in a Waldorf School and dabled in various things, I have always felt like I was a Jack of all Trades, Master of None. Now I have the interesting title of Master of Social Work. I think I could get used to that...

Friends and family photos after the hooding ceremony. Above is my friend Katherine Spinney (Talya, where did you go? Bueller? Bueller?), who along with my friend Talya has been a talented, wise and loyal friend through the process of grad school.

With professor and boss of my research job, Natasha Bowen. Below are friends Jason Hill and Natasha Wells.

With my great friend Zumrad, and her husband Ubek and daughter Amina. She calls me her "doula" because I was present at Amina's birth. What a pretty little thing she is! Below is Anne Jones, my Couples Therapy class professor.

At the "Old Well", the center and symbol of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Everything UNC has the insignia of this well stamped somewhere on it...

Yay! It's over!