The Bear-Hug Timeout

I’m typing this while sitting on the floor in James and Owen’s bedroom. Every minute or so I look up and look them in the eyes—they’re looking at me, waiting. Waiting for me to spend too long looking at my computer. Waiting for me to get up and help Sophie with something. Waiting for their chance to get out of bed.

I promised them a trip to the library but only if naptime goes well. I’m worried about this, because Sophie deserves a trip to the library regardless of how Owen and James nap. But after yesterday, I had to try something new. Because yesterday, I was ready to quit my job as parent, at least during naptime. (Can you hire someone to do naps for you?)

I used to let Owen and James have whatever they wanted in bed during naptime (rookie move). Now they get one small toy (like a train engine), their stuffed bear and one book.

Yesterday they each lost all of those things, one by one, in about 10 minutes.

And still, they jumped up and down in bed. They got out of bed. While I was “super nanny-ing” one right back into bed the other would get out, run around the room, grab another toy, laugh.

They had turned it into a game.

Short of taking away their sheets and blankets, I wasn’t sure what to do next—until James swiped a toy from the bedroom floor, while I was putting Owen back in bed.

“Next time one of you gets out of bed, I’m taking every single toy out of your room.”

They both got out of bed.

I’m not always great about following through. This time, I did. They watched me, mouths open, as I picked up every single toy in their room and placed everything in the hall—including their tracks on their train table.

I won.

Or so I thought.

With all the tracks off the train table, they decided it was the perfect stage to dance on. Cue the jumping out of bed, running to the train table, climbing up on it and dancing. While I was putting one back in bed, the other one got out.

There was no “next time” this time.

We were going on a good 40 minutes at this point and I was beyond frustrated.

I told them it was naptime. I told them they were not listening. I explained (for the upteenth time) the naptime rules. And then I picked up—picked up—the train table and carried it out the door. Adrenaline kicked in, I suppose. The train table is heavy. But I was a mom determined to get my 2-1/2-year-old twin boys to nap.

They were clearly upset. For a moment, I felt successful.

And then I realized I was a fool.

I had no place to put the train table. I couldn’t leave it propped up against a wall, for fear it would fall on someone. And although I carried it out their bedroom door, I certainly couldn’t carry it down the stairs by myself.

My only other option was to carry it back in.

So I sighed.

And did.

The boys cheered.

And started jumping up and down on their beds again.

My eyes welled up.

Why can’t I do this? I thought. It shouldn’t be this hard.

The train table game began again.

I took the two boards that cover the train table off, and carried them out to the hall.

And then I gave up. I went outside their room and closed the door.

They can just run, I thought. There was nothing in their room to play with at this point except for their beds and their imaginations.

Well, and the door.

They opened the door. Then they slammed the door. They ran, giggled, repeated.

We don’t have a lock on their door. So I held it shut. I stood in the hall pulling the doorknob from one side while they tried to pull it from the other. My eyes welled up again as I had no idea what to do (and this, certainly, was not something that would be recommended in a parenting book).

I knew from the few books I have read that immediate consequences are best. But I was out of immediate consequences. I had taken everything away. Time-outs weren’t working either (I had tried, multiple times, throughout the hour.) Like their beds, they kept running out of them, laughing, as if it were a game, while I was putting the other one back in.

Out of immediate consequences I took away TV, for the rest of the day.

They didn’t care.

I took away dessert after dinner.

They didn’t care.

I tried a traditional time-out, again.

They didn’t care.

So I grabbed them both, sat down with my legs crossed and put them on my lap. I hugged them to me, their arms pinned down.

“This is your new time-out,” I said. It was the only way I could put them in a timeout together and remain in control of the situation.

They squirmed and couldn’t move. I held on. They got upset. I held on. They squirmed some more and kicked their legs. “No kicking,” I said. I held on. They put up a fight. I held on. I held on and on and on, all the time wondering if this was right, if this was appropriate, if this was OK.

In about two minutes, their bodies relaxed. They calmed down. They asked to go to bed.

I released them from my bear hug.

The effect wasn’t immediate. I had to do bear-hug timeouts several more times before they realized they couldn’t get out of bed without getting a timeout in this new fashion.

But then:

I’ve since learned that this bear-hug technique is a real thing and that, for some children, it’s one of the only things that will calm them. Owen and James weren’t out-of-control screaming. They weren’t even throwing tantrums. But they weren’t listening. They were laughing at me, which I find more difficult to deal with than tantrums. And none of the consequences they received for their actions made a difference—except the bear-hug timeout.

Today James quickly lost his toy, book and bear. Owen lost his toy and bear, and then threw his book out of the bed before I had a chance to take it from him (sigh). They’ve both had a couple bear-hug timeouts and they’re still awake, although James is lying down and his eyes are heavy-lidded.

But at least I have another tool. Another technique. It’s not magic, it’s not perfect, but it helps.

An online search revealed little in terms of books on disciplining twin toddlers. If you have one to recommend, or techniques to recommend, I’m all ears.

“I will not play at tug o’ war
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs.” —Shel Silverstein