Tuesday Topic: Therapeutic Correction

A fellow adoptive mom sent this week’s Tuesday Topic about discipline:

…I have tried time out, but the isolation only feeds her weaknesses. I have tried other forms of discipline and they only make her either rebel harder or victimize herself. I have tried ignoring it but she will persist with the antagonism (sometimes for half days or until sleep time!). Nothing seems to work consistently. And she is only 2!

Those of us with children who have suffered loss, grief, and trauma, learn pretty quickly that our past ways of parenting don’t always work with these little ones. It can be very lonely trying to figure out how to correct them. Please share your thoughts and tips this week; I know we will benefit from our combined knowledge and experience. I will hold all of your comments until next Tuesday.

Thank you for the great questions you have been sending for upcoming Tuesday Topics. I’m compiling them and plan to use one each week. If you have a topic or question, please email it to me at thankfulmom[at]gmail[dot]com or leave it in the comments section.


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Paul and DeeDee
    November 3, 2009

    I use the time in approach with my toddler. I place her in a corner of the room where she is looking out and not actually in the corner. I stay in the room but do other things and "ignore" her until she calms down.

    If she continues to throw a fit I tell her "no fits" and "you need to have self control" (I try to always use the same language and few words). I have an older toddler also so this is modeled for her many times a day and she gets that she is not allowed up until she gets self control.

    The time in helps her to not feel isolated but she also is not allowed to get up or do anything until she has self control and I have called her over for her to apologize and give hugs.

  2. Stonefox
    November 4, 2009

    Can't wait to read the responses! Thanks, Lisa! 🙂

  3. Cat and Mark
    November 4, 2009

    I think all children are very different and their needs are different, but it helps to have a "tool box" of suggestions to work through. One thing that has worked wonders for our son (but is less effective – and less necesssary – for our similarly situated daughter) is "time ins"

    "Time Ins" are not a novel concept in the adoption world, but a very brief explanation is that instead of a "time out" typically used in many parenting circles, you don't send your children away from you – you draw them closer. This may mean just sitting near you, but we have found more extreme time ins to be the most effective.

    Our son came home almost 4, but does not have memories pre-orphanage (actually, no real memories pre-us). We worked (continue to work) on getting him accustomed to being in a family and all that entails.

    This means he often tries to push us away, prevent us from loving him. If this happens (usually a patter of small things) one of us will scope him up and basically force him to cuddle with us away from everyone else. It may sound very weird, but it works. Sometimes it takes an hour or more. He will fight, hit, kick and try and get away. He resists the affection. But eventually he'll relax. He'll allow it. Sometimes he gives it back. And now, he's started to open up, to talk about the root of the problem.

    Sometimes I think he just doesn't know how to positively seek out affection. He wants it, he needs it (sometimes lots of it) so he does the opposite and pushes it away. Then we sort of put him in a position where he must accept it and he lets his guard down (eventually).

    Hmmm… sounds strange when I write it, but it works well! He's really doing great and attaching well. 🙂

  4. Michelle
    November 4, 2009

    I don't have a tried and true way of handling misbehavior, in fact .. I am learning a whole new way of parenting as I embark on attachment therapy with my four year old daughter. I am looking forward to reading these responses next week!

    I will say one thing. The therapist is helping me to learn how to see past my daughter's behavior and address the underlying causes of her behavior (fear).

    I think that is an important distinction to keep in mind as we parent these vulnerable children.

  5. Mark and Sarah
    November 4, 2009

    This is such a timely question! We have a two (almost three) year old, adopted from ethiopia when he was 8 months. He is our first child, and we've really struggled with figuring out how to discipline him. I was disciplined with time-outs and spanking. We do not spank our children, and we tried time outs, but they also seemed to exacerbate the problem, not make it better. I recently read a life-changing book. Well, two actually. Playful Parenting, and Positive Discipline for Preschoolers. I learned that children misbehave when they're feeling discouraged or feel like they don't belong. Disciplining a child in the traditional way, further discourages them. In order to change behavior, a child must be encouraged. There's the dilemma! How do you encourage a child while they're misbehaving and not confuse them or reinforce bad behavior!? The key lies in the parent maintaining a gentle, yet firm response letting them know that the behavior is not okay (but not showing any sign of anger or other emotion) and giving your child a comfortable place to cool off, in our house it's a play tent. Make it inviting, not punitive. Hug them and love on them extra when they're misbehaving. I've found that spending extra 1:1 time with my son (he also has a younger brother) is really encouraging for him. Playful Parenting focuses on how important playing down on the floor with our children is to connecting with them and helping them be encouraged. Saying "yes" to his requests more than "no" also helps. I'm learning to release control over what I think he should do and letting him direct. It's going so much better. I think behavior problems can really snowball if the parent is angry and then the child is further discouraged and acts out again, and again, and again. I'm still learning, but am finally feeling like I'm on the right path!

  6. Staci
    November 6, 2009

    I do not have children from "hard places" yet but all children at some point push boundaries, push away love and reject all they know about good behavior. One book that has really helped me is called "The Power of Positive Parenting." I reviewed it on goodreads.com if anyone is on that. My email is staci dot hopkin24 at gmail dot com if anyone wants to see the review. It is a blessing because time outs do not work in our house either.

  7. Audrey
    November 6, 2009

    It is so hard when what you are doing isn't working. It's easy to feel like a failure at times, that's for sure.

    We've been using a technique that I learned from another mom. She called it 'time-in'. She wrote on her blog about holding the child in a chair until the child was able to calm down and regain control of herself. Jacob is much to strong for me to hold that way so we use a modified version where I hold him with my body. I lay on my side on a bed – not his bed – and hold him with my arms and leg. Yes, he fights me but I continue to hold until he is able to calm himself down.

    I know that this sounds extreme and those who haven't had to deal with the behavior issues that we have may not understand this technique at all. My goal is to calmly and firmly establish that I am in control – using my body to restrain Jacob has been VERY effective for us.

    We always use the traditional sit in the chair method of time-out first and Jacob knows that if he won't sit there as directed then we will end up on the bed.

    With either method, the ticket out of time-out is eye contact because withholding eye contact is what Jacob uses to distance himself from us. Once he makes eye contact with me, then we go back and redo whatever it was that got us into time-out to begin with. After a successful redo, there are hugs and kisses and positive words for making a good choice.

    It is time consuming but it's working for us. In the beginning we were going through this routine about once and day and now we are down to about once a week. We've been home for two months now and I feel very encouraged by the progress we've made.

  8. Donna
    November 6, 2009

    This is a difficult issue. Children from the 'hard places' don't always respond to discipline in the tried and true manners.

    We were told that physical punishment would be key, as they only knew this kind of punishment and it is what they would respond to. Needless to say, our spankings were nothing compared to their former punishments and would get little response as far as behavior change.

    We have choosen to save the harsh discipline for matters of safety and lying.

    We have instituted
    1) time-in's were they have to stay close to us. This is very effective for our older son who is very social.

    2) corner standing in the same room with us, till pouting in done and rational thinking is restored.

    3) restitution is big, when things are broken or taken

    4) probably the biggest thing we have done though is PRAISE!! They both thrive on praise, don't we all!! So now I am much more pro-active in finding and praising the good behaviors. Kids from 'hard places' generally know punishment, but have had little praise, they will look for affermation in any way they can get it–even the negative. This has made the biggest and best behavior change in our kids. We praise so much at times that it feels facky, but they really respond to it and behavior is so much better!

    Delighting in Him

  9. Matt, Sara, Parker and Lleyton Ritzmann
    November 8, 2009

    We had quite a few opportunities after arriving home with our son to figure out what type of therapetutic discipline worked best for him. He was almost 6 when we brought him home this past June, so I am sure everything differs with age, but with the help of this blog and our social worker, we came up with a couple effective means of discipline. The most effective of which could be deemed a "time in". I don't know the best way to describe a time in, but here goes: In the event that he had acted up to the point of needing discipline, we would take him up to his room and sit on his bed with him and hold him (through plenty of kicking/screaming/hitting/scratching/pinching/you name it) until he settled down and understood what he had done wrong and why we were disciplining him. It proved to be an effective way of communicating to him that we weren't going away. He had dealt with more hardship and loss in his life than anyone should have to deal with, let alone prior to the age of 6, so this method communicated to him that we weren't leaving. Even though we were upset with him and don't condone his actions, we are going to be there for him no matter what and we are going to love him no matter what.

    On a side note, we found that being in a routine each day and not varying from it, and communicating to him what the routine was and when everything was going to happen, helped diminish the regularity of outbursts.

    That's my two cents. Best of luck to everyone dealing with similar issues. My wife and I know first hand that it isn't easy, but it gets better with time.

  10. Anonymous
    November 10, 2009

    Thanks to Mark & Sarah for the play tent idea. I have learned A TON from your blog, but I find some of the comments from your readers to be more uncomfortable than I can handle. I LOVE your ideas of a thinking/calming chair, and the awesome running around the block technique, but I cannot feel comfortable knowing that your readers are endorsing child torture (such as restraints and physical violence.) Especially for those who have already endured so much in their little lives. They NEED to know that parents love them UNCONDITIONALLY, not based on good behavior. ALL human being including children deserve to be treated with respect, as do all elderly. Would one restrain their elderly parent unless it were a matter of extreme safety? Certainly not. Would one hit their elderly parent or grandparent because that person were disrespectful? Certainly not. One would MODEL APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR.


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