Beyond Time-Out

Has your child ever called you "stupid," told you to "shut up," or insisted on "just one more game" before turning off the Wii and hitting the books? Child psychologist Dr. Beth Grosshans says children’s troubling behaviors – from unruliness to anxiety – are often a result of how much power parents have turned over to them.

Restoring the Balance of Family Power In Your Home

In her book Beyond Time-Out, Dr. Grosshans shows why power and authority are as essential as love and good intentions to effective parenting. Unfortunately, most parents have the loving down, but not the leading, creating an imbalance of family power (IFP). When a child asserts himself with"No, I don’t want to" (opposition), or"No, I am afraid to" (anxiety), too often the child’s protest prevails.

When this happens, the better judgment and leadership of the parent is lost, the child assumes more power than the parent, and IFP takes root.

The following excerpt offers tools for countering verbal opposition and leading children to more controlled, respectful and cooperative behavior.

Beyond Time-outRefusals

“No!" "You can’t make me!" "I’m not going to." "You’re not the boss of me!" There’s nothing subtle here.

These straightforward, direct refusals to a parent’s authority are your child saying, "Oh, yeah? You think you have influence over me? Well, you don’t. I’m the one with the power to say how things will go and what I will and won’t do. So there!" If your child has stepped too far over the line and is quite rude to you, then clear, decisive action is required.

In a firm, disapproving (but not angry) voice, say: "Excuse me? What did I just hear you say? You may not refuse to cooperate, nor may you speak to me in such a disrespectful way. Come with me, you are going to spend some time in your room." Parents, that’s all the talking there should be. Now act quickly. Get your child to his room, and don’t say anything further while you are escorting him there. You can expect your little one to say a lot to you as you steer him along, but hold your tongue and don’t take the bait.

If your child is just flirting with blatant refusal, and it has not yet become a part of his repertoire, you can moderate your response and put a little humor in your tone – something along the lines of exaggerated incredulity: "No? Did you just say no? What are you thinking, you silly-billy? You can’t say no to me like that."

Then with a more serious tone: "Now, let me repeat my request . . . And remember, this is the second time I am saying it. If you need a third reminder, or if you are disrespectful again, you will have to go to your room."

Talking Back and Being Fresh

“Stupid, stupid, stupid mommy." "Shut up!" "I hate you!" "Go away! Don’t talk to me." It makes my fingers itch just writing about such power-drenched language coming from a child. If you can’t see the wonderful nature of your child for all the back talk, keep a level head and start by acting, not talking.

A key point here is to keep your emotions in check. A strong reaction will only tell your child he has gotten to you.

For a child’s power drive that means a direct hit, and it will fuel the back talk. Before you say anything at all, walk to your child, put your hands on his shoulders and turn him towards his room. Only then begin speaking.

Say to him: "Excuse me? Who do you think you are, speaking in such a fashion? Absolutely not. Now off to your room." Direct him to his room and set the terms for his staying there. Be certain that your calm prevails. Showing your children adult self-control and respect here is the key to effectiveness.

Negotiating And Whining

“Wait, wait, let me finish this." "Mom, I can’t turn off the computer now; I will lose my level on this game. You don’t understand." "If you let me eat it in the TV room, then okay." "But why doesn’t he have to do it? That’s not fair! I'm not doing it until Steven helps too." "Okay, but I want Daddy, not you!" "Ooh, I don’t like these kinds of green beans. I want the skinny ones. Make me the skinny ones." "I want to stop at McDonald’s. I will still eat my dinner, I promise. You know I need to eat before I go to practice. Come on, Mom."

These are the common whines and negotiations of younger children. As children get older they hone their skill of negotiation to an art. They can really wear parents down with their relentless bids to make sure things follow their agenda. I am not saying you can never bend a bit and accommodate your child, but if the requests are frequent and becoming a burden or an annoyance, then you know you need to tighten up your responses and hold firm to your agenda.

The best way to nip the negotiation habit is to engage as little as possible with your child – who has learned from his interactions with you that his words can derail your agenda.It is best to ignore his bid for a negotiation:"Okay, stop right there; no negotiating, please. This is the second time I am giving you my answer. If you do not cooperate now, you will be heading off to your room."


Requests, demands, conditions – our children can go on and on, refusing to stop until they get a response that satisfies them.

Interrupt the pleading with an attention-getting gesture. If your child’s begging is a routine habit that escalates quickly, clap your hands once sharply and say: "Elizabeth, stop. I have told you my answer. I am not going to talk about this with you any further. If you keep going on about it, I am going to have you go to your room until you can get it out of your system."

Now that you have general guidelines for what to say and what to do in the face of various verbal oppositions, adapt your own words and actions to fit whatever circumstances arise with your children. The more often you assert your clear and firm leadership, the more comfortable you will feel about using it.