A Time-Out Trick

A couple months ago time-outs became tough. Our rule used to be you had to sit in the time-out corner in the dining room for the number of minutes equivalent to your age—and if you kicked, screamed, or otherwise created drama, time-out started over.

There was kicking, screaming and drama. Always. It was miserable, for everyone.

Enter the hourglass sand timer, which I keep tucked away in our secretary.

I purposefully chose glass.

Now the kids have to sit in time-out and gently hold the timer. I explained that it’s glass and holding it is like holding a bird’s egg—if it’s dropped or thrown, it breaks. The gentle handling requires almost immediate calmness.

It’s also a five-minute timer. At first I worried this would be too long, but they spend the entire time watching the sand fall, and they calm, calm, calm.

Once the sand runs out we spend time talking about why the time-out had to happen, and follow-up with the usual apologies to those needing them, hugs and “I love you” from me.

It’s not foolproof. But for the most part it has greatly improved what had become a nonworking discipline technique.

Rarely do I have success with these sort of things, so when I do, I feel the need to pass these tricks along.

“While you’ll feel compelled to charge forward it’s often a gentle step back that will reveal to you where you and what you truly seek.” —Rasheed Ogunlaru


This picture was taken at 5:22pm. Sophie woke them up at 6pm. They immediately started crying. We whispered softly to them. Scratched their backs. Dinner was already on the table, on their plates, parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, their favorite drinks in their favorite cups.

They started screaming.

And then kept screaming until 6:55pm.

Whenever I asked James what was wrong (which, obviously, was that I woke him up) he just screamed at me. Owen, at least, tried to talk although it didn’t make sense. I think he was dreaming and his dream was clashing with reality, which was just making him more angry.

Eventually, after a long story about a curvy track involving his Legos, he told me he wanted watermelon and carrots for dinner.

This was, actually, a somewhat reasonable request but I had already made dinner. And our rule is this: You must, at the very least, try a bite before requesting something else.

I reminded him of this rule.

He just screamed some more.

Finally (imagine a lot of time passing here) he decided to try a piece if I carried him to the table and if I fed it to him.


I did.

(It had been 55 minutes.)

Owen: “I don’t like it.”

Me: “So you want watermelon and carrots?”

Owen: “Yes.”

As I was spooning out the watermelon onto a plate …

Owen: “Wouldn’t it be funny if I ate all my pasta with my watermelon and carrots because I like it?”

I paused. And silently screamed inside my head.

Me: “Yes, Owen. Very funny.”

He ate some more. He ate his watermelon, his baby carrots and his pasta. James, who had been eating as well, got up and came over to where I was sitting, which, at this point, was on the couch.

James: “How many bites do I have to eat to get dessert?”

Me: “All of them. Your whole plate.”

He flipped out.

Me: “Fine. Ten bites.”

(Remember, 55 minutes.)

Owen: “How many bites do I have to eat?”

James: “Ten.”

Owen, sobbing again: “But I want to eat the whole of it!”

Me: “What?”

Owen, still sobbing: “But I want to eat the whole of it!”

At this point Sophie came down the stairs, wearing only her underwear.

Sophie: “Do you know what I really want? What I really want is … why could I only have five of those stars?”

Me: “Because you’ve had plenty of treats today. That’s plenty for dessert.”


Owen: “Did I eat enough for dessert?”

Sophie: “I want more stars!”

“Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.” —P.J. O’Rourke

Other People’s Refrigerator …

tops are covered in toys confiscated for various infractions, right?

Also, lately, this:

“I thought, how can it be that two strangers are exchanging such intimate things? Well, most women are full to the brim, that’s all. That’s what I think. I think we are most of us ready to explode, especially when our children are small and we are so weary with the demands for love and attention and the kind of service that makes you feel you should be wearing a uniform with ‘Mommy’ embroidered over the left breast, over the heart. I (used to sit) half watching Ruthie and half dreaming—trying, I think, to recall my former self. If a stranger had come up to me and said, ‘Do you want to talk about it? I have time to listen,’ I think I might have burst into tears at the relief of it. It wasn’t that I was really unhappy. It was the constancy of my load and the awesome importance of it; and it was my isolation.” —Elizabeth Berg, The Pull of the Moon

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

Tulips “From Sophie”

Sophie and I had a rough night tonight. One of my failings as a parent is to threaten and then not follow through. For example: “Sophie, if you scream like that one more time you lose dessert after dinner tonight.” Sophie screams. “Sophie, I mean it. If you scream one more time you lose dessert after dinner tonight.” Sophie screams. “Sophie, I’m serious!” Sophie screams. “OK, no dessert. You can get it back if you don’t scream for the rest of the night but …”

Seriously. Super Nanny would have a field day with me.

Anyhow, I promised myself, after a particularly rough weekend, I would start following through. And tonight, I did. There were a lot of tears. But I held my ground. Long story short, Sophie went to bed tonight without “stay up time,” without a snack, without books. I sat in the hallway and painted my toenails. She laid in bed and cried. It was horrible. But also good. Very good, for both of us. I was less friend and more parent. I followed through. I think, I hope, we’re in a better place now.

Andy went grocery shopping tonight. And came home with tulips. “From Sophie.”

Tomorrow I know Sophie will be overly loving, with her constant “I love you’s” (her “thing” as of late) and snuggling on the couch. Even if tonight she screamed “never” to me no less than three times. Am I doing this right? I wonder. Have I messed up? I worry. And then I look at the tulips. And listen to the words Andy says to me.

It will be OK. I am doing OK. We are all OK.

Sometimes, being “mean” is necessary and needed, I know. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier.

“The flower that follows the sun does so even in cloudy days.” —Robert Leighton

Runny Noses


This picture was taken early March but today our bathroom looks the same as Sophie has a runny nose again. In this picture she’s telling me she needs “two tissues, Mama” to blow her nose when clearly, she needs a gazillion. It’s days like these I feel like a broken record.

“Sophie, only take one tissue to blow your nose.”

“Sophie, please throw away your tissue when you’re done with it.”

“Sophie, please do not clean the sink with your dirty tissue.”

“Yes, Sophie, I know there is one teeny, tiny spec of something on the sink and I know this is causing you much distress but do you hear the screaming babies? Do you see the pile of clean laundry on the couch? Do you see how messy the kitchen is? I have other things I need to do first before I clean up that miniscule piece of dirt from the sink.”

(Screaming ensues. I wipe up spec of dirt.)

“Sophie, if you would just hold still and blow while I hold the tissue up to your nose your nose might only run every other second versus every second.”

“No, Sophie. You do not get a special treat every time you wipe your nose.”

“Sophie, one tissue! One tissue! One tissue.”

“If your kids are giving you a headache, follow the directions on the aspirin bottle, especially the part that says ‘keep away from children.'” —Susan Savannah

Sometimes Time-Outs Go Well …

And sometimes, well, they go like this:







“A young lady is a female child who has just done something dreadful.” —Judith Martin

Why Is Spanking Legal?

I don’t make it a practice to write about controversial parenting techniques not because I don’t like controversy (I do) but because one of the most important things I’ve discovered as a parent is this: Most of the things I once judged other parents doing I have now done—and still do.

Before I became a parent I swore my children would never watch TV before the age of 2; would only wear cloth diapers; would only eat organic, homemade baby food and drink only breast milk for at least a year; would never fall victim to gender stereotypes; would never watch DVDs in the car; would play outside every day no matter the weather; would never be allowed to throw a tantrum in public; would never be a picky eater; would be given a bath every night; and would never witness me lose my patience.

Sophie loves Dora and Wubbzy and Ming Ming and Little Bear. I do cloth diaper, but not exclusively (and hardly ever when we leave the house). The boys refuse to eat our homemade sweet potatoes but love the store-bought ones even though the ingredients are the same—sweet potatoes. I’m still pumping breast milk for the boys but we’ve gone through at least three tubs of formula as a supplement. Sophie plays dress-up every day and, without any prompting from us, really wants a pink, sparkly tiara for her birthday. We bought a portable DVD player for our last drive to Baltimore. Many days I just don’t have the energy to bundle everyone up for playtime outside. I now assume if we’re in public, they’ll be a tantrum from at least one of my children. We bribe Sophie with dessert in order to get her to eat her dinner. The boys get bathed twice a week. I lose my patience in front of my children at least 12 times a day. I yell.

But I never hit.

I will never hit.

And I honestly don’t understand why hitting your children (including spanking) is legal.

Sophie hit Owen today—in the face. He was screaming. She was trying to watch “Finding Nemo.” I saw it, used my most-mean-mom-ever voice and told her to go to time-out while I finished changing James. I know she knew she did something very, very wrong because she immediately said she was sorry and ran to time-out and stayed there without complaint (a rarity). When her time-out was over I asked what she had done and made her apologize to Owen. I then made her tell Andy what she had done at dinner, and we spent a long time talking about hitting and why it’s bad, how it hurts other people and makes them sad.

If you spank your child, and your child hits another child (or you), how do you punish them? By spanking them? That makes zero sense to me. By telling them that it’s wrong even though you do it, too? But I only spank my child if they break specific rules, you might say. Well, in Sophie’s world, Owen broke one of her rules. And that is, to talk at a reasonable volume while she is trying to watch a show. (And Owen’s volume was far from reasonable.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend spanking. I have yet to meet a pediatrician who advocates it. Spanking in Sweden has been outlawed for more than 30 years. Frankly, I don’t know why it’s legal here.

I do many things that irritate my husband. In fact, I just asked him for an example and he rattled off the following: When emptying the dishwasher I don’t put the inserts to Sophie’s sippy cups with the sippy cups. I talk too loudly on the phone. I’m always losing my keys and credit cards. I hang up his coat in the coat closet (?!). I constantly put his pajama pants in the laundry where he can’t find them. I put the van’s parking brake on when parked on our non-hilly driveway. I don’t cook enough meals with meat in them. To him, these are “rules” that shouldn’t be broken. Just like we have rules for Sophie that shouldn’t be broken. But he would never hit me for breaking these rules. Because that would be battery. And last I checked, battery, whether it’s a slapped hand, punch to the face or a spanked bottom, is illegal.

But those are minor annoyances, you might say. I’m trying to teach my son or daughter right from wrong, you might add. OK, say I cheated on Andy. That’s a huge transgression, no? But legal, yes? If he found out, and in a moment of passionate rage, he hit me, I could have him arrested.

And yet.

A child can ignore a parent’s request to pick up toys and be spanked for it. A child, someone younger, weaker, more vulnerable and still learning right from wrong can be physically hurt for minor transgressions and, in some circles, many parents accept that. Advocate that. Think less of your parenting skills if you don’t do that. This, literally, blows my mind.

There have been times when I’ve lost my patience with Sophie. I have picked her up and, very aggressively, put her in time-out. But that was me reacting to the situation. Revenge and rage were at work in that moment—not a desire to teach. And when a young child does something wrong, I strongly believe that it’s a parent’s job to teach. Hitting is punishing. Time-out and talking are teaching.

But we’re human, you say. Sometimes I just get so angry I can’t help myself, you add. Yes, you can. When Andy changes out of his work clothes and leaves them sprawled out all over our bedroom even though I’ve told him 12,000 times to please hang them up or put them in the laundry, do I hit him? No. Do I want to? Yes. But do I? No.

Finally, I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine physically harming my children in order to teach them right from wrong. It seems so very cruel. I know some of you might think I sound over the top with that sentiment but I’m being 100 percent sincere—it’s seems so very, very cruel.

So how is this OK? Why is this legal? Please, share your opinion. For this, I welcome the controversy—I think it’s that important.

“I think that spanking and discipline are an oxymoron, because the word ‘discipline’ comes from the Latin term which means to lead.” —Martin Sauer

Being a Toddler Can Be Tough


Sophie, taken January 29

“When the toddler does something and there are consequences for his action civilization begins.” —Alicia F. Lieberman