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​ Ask Dr. Phelan: Timeout Tantrums

February 28, 2019 6302 Views No comments


We have a question today from Emily, and it’s got a little trick to it. Emily is an occupational therapist.

Q: A two-year-old boy won’t stay in his timeout chair.

She says, “I’m trying to help one of my families implement this program with a toddler that is 26 months old. The mother has stated that she has used a timeout chair; however, the boy will not stay seated, so she feels like she has to hold him on the spot to keep him there.”

That’s not a good strategy.

So then Emily reported that she tried keeping him in the bedroom, which is a better strategy, but he threw such a tantrum that he had an asthma attack.

Now, we don’t know if the boy was diagnosed with asthma or what, but he got very upset and apparently it looked like he was having an asthma attack.

“Do you have any suggestions for the mom for how to proceed with the program?”

Well, the first thing is that if the child won’t sit in the chair or the stair, then we’re going to the room. But the room here causes some problems, partly I think, to the boy having a tantrum.

So one way to get around this and the kind of complicated medical situation is this:

Timeout together.

What mom could do is go to the timeout with the boy in the room, close the door, and do the timeout. With a two year old, you can do a minute, a minute and a half, something like that.

If the mom’s in there with the boy, it may reduce his upset. No talking, no emotion, you’re not looking at him during the tantrum. You just sit there and stare out the window, stare at the floor, or whatever.

Now, he may still tantrum. We’re hoping that the mom’s being there in the room with him will abort that. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I would try that out, see if that’s more reassuring for him for the timeout.

The other thing is that you can put the boy in the room, put a gate up on the door, and sit on the other side of the gate while he’s in the room for timeout.

Try that out, and let us know what happens.


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