We have a 4yr old that we adopted when he was 2. He's a great kid, but we've got the usual behavioral issues for a child of 4. Doesn't want to eat, trys to control us by telling us what to do. He doesn't want to watch THAT show... but no show is good enough, etc... So, whatever it is that sets it off he often ends up boiling over into a temper tantrum and is inconsolable. We'll put him in a timeout or send him to bed an hour early.
Our problem is getting him to accept the punishment. We'll put him in the time out, but he gets up... over and over and over and over, for hours if need be. The entire time it seems to just escelate. He'll definately do the opposite of whatever we want him to do. He'll stare right at us and put his feet on the floor. When we leave the room he runs to the door and leaves. If we lock the door he pounds on it or throws things inside of his room. In the event we send him to bed early, it will get so bad that I'm afraid he'll hurt himself so I'll put him in a bear hug until he settles down, but he'll try his best to bite and pinch me. I'm always able to keep my cool, talk in a gentle voice and explain that if he just calms down and stays in bed, or in his timeout, everything will be ok. But it just doesn't seem to work. He'll strip himself naked and throw his clothes, he'll tare everything off the bed. Is there anything else we could do?
My only is 13 months, so I can't speak from experience here and feel free to take my thoughts with a grain of salt.
So...what exactly is the punishment for? For the tantrum? I would be very wary of punishing a tantrum. He has limited means of expression, and tantrums are an outlet of frustration, anger, etc. Punishing him for having a tantrum can send the message that the emotions he's feeling aren't valid. I would try not to look at them as "bad" behavior.
Can you find ways to help him feel more in control? It seems like he's searching for it. Do you use choices? Present two acceptable options and allow him to choose. "Do you want to watch this show or that show?" If neither, that's okay, find something else to do. Play in the yard or go for a walk? Etc. In general, I might work on giving him as much freedom as possible, say yes to him as much as possible, and try to be respectful of his emotional state. Try to help him identify his feelings with words; it will eventually give him a means of expression other than a tantrum. "You are angry because you don't want to go to bed."
When you talk about time outs going on for hours...really, what's the point of having a battle of wills? I think it could just further his sense of lack of control because you're insistent on "winning." You're asking him to relinquish more control. Goodness knows, as an adopted child, he hasn't had much of any say in his life.
Try to see situations from his point of view. Maybe check out The Emotional Life of a Toddler to help see things from his perspective...the book does more to address younger toddlers, but I think it would go a long way in helping you understand his behavior so that you can respond empathetically.
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Living and loving in ATX with DH (of 7 years) and DS (3.5)
Welcome to MDC!
You've landed in the Gentle Discipline forum, which advocates discipline without punishment, so I don't think you're going to find a lot of help for "getting him to accept the punishment". I'm sure people will have good ideas for you, but that's not generally how parents here approach the problem.
As a side note, there's also an Adoptive/Foster Parenting forum here that you might want to check out. I know that sometimes issues with children who were adopted, especially if they were a little older like your son, can call for different approaches.
As with the previous poster, I'm wondering what the punishment is for. It's hard for me to give good advice without some idea whether the time outs are for the tantrum or the behavior that precedes the tantrum (not eating, bossing you around, not wanting to watch what you're watching/not being able to choose a TV show). What are you hoping for him to learn? Since teaching should be at the heart of all discipline, what skills does he lack that he needs to learn, and how is your method of disciplining him help him learn what he needs to know?
I have a couple of suggestions. First, I highly recommend the book "Kids, Parents & Power Struggles" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. I love her books, and this is a good general parenting book, but also addresses power struggles. Every parent of a 4 year old should read this!
Next, stop the time outs. They are not working. They are, as you said, escalating the situation. Instead, you might try a 'time in' -- set up a spot where you can encourage him to go when he's out of control. Stay near him, if that helps, take a step back if it doesn't. But when he loses control by tantruming, he's going to hold on to as much of his power as he can (because he knows he's out of control and it's scary). Thus, it's not a great time to start a power struggle.
In addition, take a look at when these tantrums happen and what precedes them. Remember the acronym HALT - Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. If he's any of these, then that's the cause of the tantrum/obstinacy or whatever is wrong, and needs to be addressed first. Our daughter had a major fit about something minor Saturday because she was hungry. I let her go have her fit, gave her a hug when she was done, and then gave her a banana and some cheese. If your son is angry, what's an acceptable way for him to express that? If he's lonely, how can he get attention from his parents without misbehaving? If he's tired, how can you help him calm down and get more sleep?
The other thing that might help is remembering that it's not your job to stop the tantrum. It's your job to help him through his very powerful emotions. Tantrums are a symptom, not a problem in and of themselves, in my opinion. He's got big emotions. He can't always get his way. Both of those are facts of life. What can you do to help him learn to regulate his emotions when he's disappointed, sad, tired, lonely, etc.? He can't regulate his emotions by himself yet, so you'll have to help him along.
If you notice, I'm pretty down on time outs. In my case, it's because they didn't work very well with our kids, and I felt they were damaging our relationship. They worked OK with our older, more compliant child, but he rarely needed them, and it pretty soon became a cooling off period for him, and we didn't have to enforce a time limit. Our being around him escalated the situation and being left to his own devices within our hearing was all he needed. He'd calm down, we'd then connect after he'd cooled down and life was good. So, they rapidly evolved into being "cooling off" and not "time outs". This child is now 10, and when he's mad, he'll still stomp off to his room (with dramatic sighs), slam his door a couple of times, hurl a few stuffed animals against the wall, calm down, and then reconnect. He needs to be alone to get this out.
We also tired time outs with our daughter, who is 3 years younger. They failed miserably. Like your son, she's spirited, has a firm opinion on everything, and will not back down. It became very clear to me after 2-3 tries that the time outs were damaging our relationship. It didn't take me too long to realize that when she was having a tantrum, she needed us to be there. It's a lot harder for me to have patience with this style. And there are times when we sent her to her room to cool down. Again, we didn't enforce a time, but we explained that we couldn't take the crying/whining right now (I'm very sound sensitive), and she needed to take it elsewhere. But before she could truly calm down, she would need a hug and a cuddle, and she would need to talk it out. She can't be left to her own devices. Even now at age 7, she needs that hug. After her fit on Saturday, she came down to the kitchen where I was cooking for a hug. She was willing to wait until I'd gotten the olive oil off my hands and dried them. After the hug, she could think about a snack, and she went on her way happily. Sending her for a timeout would have prolonged this fit indefinitely, and worse, her needs still wouldn't have been met.
With the tv, I would just turn it off. If he doesn't like it then there is no point in watching it right?
"Wow, you're really frustrated / upset / mad [because ... (if you know what the reason is)]. It must be really hard to have such intense feelings. I know you can get through this. I'm here for you if you need me." And then you hold them or don't hold them, depending on what they want and wait until they're done having the tantrum.
I was just listening to a Naomi Aldort interview, where she was saying something I thought was so helpful about how if kids see that we're not afraid of their tantrum, that they don't have to be afraid of their tantrum either and they grow out of it eventually.