My name is David and I have been working as a Child and Youth Counselor for about 1 year and 7 months. I just have a few questions about behaviors and different approaches to take in dealing with them.
I started off working in a group home for the first year then moved. Now for the last 7 months have been working in locked programs. I ran into a problem with giving youth time outs in certain situations and them not following through with them and refusing to take them, and then myself not knowing how to deal with it then.
See in a group home setting if I gave a time out they were able to just leave and go for a walk which acted as a time out, but in locked programs they cannot leave so I struggle with times outs when youth will not take them. I was wondering if anyone had this same problem or have ideas on different ways I can approach a time out with youth when needed.
Thank you for your time!
I am wondering if you have come across restorative practice which seeks to develop ways to make, maintain and repair relationships – and address behavioural issues and challenges in ways that do not involve punishments or threats of punishment ( or rewards – the flip side of the same coin as they rely on extrinsic motivators).
Using 'time out' is punitive and unlikely to be effective. Punishments tend to make people resentful and not reflective – (quote from restorative writer John Braithwaite)
Check out Just Care – a book about using restorative practice in residential care settings.
I must first say that there is a lot of context about your practice environment that I do not have, so keep in mind when I respond that it is without a lot of background information.
I wonder what is behind the behaviors that you are trying to address? The behavior is only the tip of the iceberg as we all know, and it’s what lies beneath the surface that is sometimes more important to respond to…. So, for a certain bebaviour there may be unmet needs, negative thoughts and certain feelings. So I always try to respond to what lies beyond the behaviour and not the behaviour itself, because the behaviour is just like an indicator that something inside the young person feels wrong. If you can respond to what feels wrong inside, that is probably a much more accurate and targeted response. It is hard to do, because most people expect us to deal with the behaviour and many approaches to exactly that, but I find that it often misses the mark.
So, if time-outs are not working I would suggest another approach. Perhaps you can start by simply asking the young people what kind of support they need from you when things go wrong. You might be surprised. When young people are not in crisis they have remarkable insight into their own situation, so finding a time to talk to them and asking them about how you can be helpful might give you answers that no-one else can.
So I know this does not provide any definitive answers, but perhaps it is another way to approach the situation. Never give up.
Werner van der Westhuizen
I have no advice only a story. I was in a similar situation early on in my career and I made a choice about aligning my values and beliefs with a program that was similar to how I wanted to be with those who were struggling rather than adjusting to something I was not good at. The locked program I was in, paid more and had "benefits". The place I moved to paid less and had very few "benefits".... That was 30 years ago. As it turned out the place I chose had all the "benefits" I just didn't see them at the time.
Putting on a tight pair of pants every morning is the universe's way of telling you something: you have options.
Is the purpose of the time out specifically for them to calm down? If so having a discussion with individuals to figure out alternatives that work best for them is what I would suggest. For some you walking away and others not engaging can be just as effective, music, a statement that they have provided you that helps them remember what their goals are. Of course being able to intervene earlier for the individual so they do not escalate to the point that a time out is required is best. What are other Child and Youth Care practitioners doing?
Good luck and be well.
I have worked both in group homes and in the school system for the past 12 years as a CYW.
In my personal experience I have seen time outs used in a variety of age groups through this time.
I have started moving away from the belief of timeouts as I have seen they typically result in a negative experience for many students and youth. I have seen and come to believe that they often fail to promote positive change in behaviour or in the relationship between yourself and that youth. The idea behind a time out is usually sending the person away for a break, cool down period or time to reflect when a negative or unwanted behaviour has taken place by that individual. I believe that sending a youth away who most likely already has experienced much rejection in their life can often serve to increase the feeling of rejection and shame within themselves which in turn will not create positive change in thoughts, feelings and future behaviour. I truly believe and have experienced that positive change within youth of all ages comes from taking time to develop a positive rapport and showing that you are willing to work through their struggles with them at the time they are struggling the most.
Hopefully you will find a different view helpful in your search for answers.
Are you aware of the concept of “time in”? Often youth in crisis need help regulating their bodies and brains and emotions so when we as caring adults make or share time with the youth to change gears, to blow off steam, to get a breath of fresh air, to explode in a space more conducive to explosions we empower youth. Secluding or isolating youth often can reinforce negative thoughts and feelings and teach anti social behaviors, when we as caring adults send kids to be alone with themselves when they most need us.
This is to say too that being in space with the youth may just be that and not a time to process or talk. Or some kids do need to get away.
I worked both in a group home (co-ed) and custody units in the past (open, secured and closed). I appreciate your sensitivity for the youth you are currently working with, in recognizing the limitations and challenges. Being mindful in practice is a great start to building relationships with young people. Respect is another. I also feel mutual dialogue and engaging the journey with youth is beneficial and supports their development, learning, and growth. In my opinion, connecting with youth is key.
I do not believe in nor have ever desired to engage in restraints and other measures to "control" the behaviour of young people, regardless of living environment. This includes sending youth on a "time out". Time outs can be punitive and controlling. Note that I used the word "sending". I find it useful to take a supportive approach. In my years of practice, regardless of where I worked, I would create spaces to support youth in whatever they were going through. Some spaces had a physical structure such as an area they can go to calm, reflect, etc. These spaces were set up in advance with children and youth collaborating on making this space theirs and using it to help them. Other spaces can be in-the-moment spaces where I let the youth know they can remain there or go where they need to with the same impact as a space already set up. Always follow up with dialogue and any other helpful supportive measures. Unless a young person is harming someone or themselves, I feel there is no need to intervene per se. Just let them know you are there for them (hence, the importance of rapport building), as always. It also requires a feel for proximity with that particular youth to provide safety, security and comfort. It can be a struggle when you are new and first engaging with young people, but like any other relationship you get to know each other and it becomes easier.
Notably, there is a purpose behind every action and/or reaction that youth engage in. At times, dialoguing with youth about what is happening in their life is helpful and shows that you care. I find that caring connections makes a huge difference in our practice. Feel free to go on CYC-Net or other sources to read up on these topics. I've added a few CYC-Net links that may be useful:
Reflecting on professional practice is also beneficial. As well, with time comes practice wisdom.
There are several alternatives to time-outs, particularly a "time-in”. Since I don't know the ages of your residents, I cannot offer specific strategies. But if you check online – alternatives to time-outs, there are many relevant articles.
Ours is a profession of hope – keep up the good work.
In the "getting to know you" phase I like to discuss how we will manage their behaviour when they become too distressed for discussion. How I can help them to regulate and get to a place where we can talk about it. We need to negotiate how we can both feel safe.
In this discussion I need to get them to agree to find a way to get to a place where they can agree to take some Space and Time.
The contract goes something like this. The youth would choose where they will go to take some breaths, and for how long. We discuss rec time, unit time, and classroom time so we're both clear. Different spaces, different places.
This way I don't send them to their room for 10 minutes... They have made the plan before with you. You just follow through. Try it early in the relationship, before it is a big eruption. Remind them of the agreement or contract. Of course it is important that all staff use the same approach or they'll get confused.
I don't walk away as that has escalated things in the past.
My favorite is with teenage girls who think they have calmed down and return too soon, clearly not calm. " Ok I'm f'n ready to talk!!" and I need to describe what I see and tell them why I don't think they are ready yet.
Also once they've gone to their room, hallway or safe place I need to get there quickly, not to leave them alone for too long. I have a story about that mistake...
They should learn to make these decisions. A time out should teach self regulation.
Firstly, excellent question and it seems you have created a good discussion going. Firstly in your time-out delivery, do you give a specific time that is associated with the time-out (i.e. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.)? As back in the day when I was starting out I was told always to give specific time to youth when you deliver your message, as in their stage of development they need to know the measurement of time and know it has an end point (predictable). If you don't give a specific time, the youth will get frustrated and will usually not follow through with the time-out.
Another tool for a time-out is when is "nothing happens until you comply". This means no tv, no program, etc. I found in the treatment center I worked out of this worked like a charm. The only thing is you as a staff member need to be able to stick to your guns and not to give in. I feel that it is our job as youth care workers to give this consistency and predictable environment for children in care, as a lot of them come from the opposite type of environment.
Here are a few more things that need to be considered when delivering a time-out, do not power struggle or use lost of privileges as an additional consequence for non-compliance. As a lot of children will self sabotage. Another consideration is to make a policy or rule within your cottage or group home with all the staff. As all staff members need to be on board with time-out. Again it gets back to consistency. If everyone is on board and holds the youth accountable it makes for a safe environment. Also the other youth will witness this and know what to expect.
Best of luck
I have recently, in the past couple of years, learned that 'time outs' are actually quite ineffective and can do more harm than good, especially if you are trying to form a therapeutic relationship with a young person and build trust. Give this article a read:
This article talks about parents giving children 'time outs' but the same principals apply with Youth Workers. Key points from the article include: "On top of everything, time-outs are usually ineffective in accomplishing the goals of discipline: to change behavior and build skills. Parents may think that time-outs cause children to calm down and reflect on their behavior. But instead, time-outs frequently make children angrier and more dysregulated, leaving them even less able to control themselves or think about what they’ve done, and more focused on how mean their parents are to have punished them."
This could explain why your youth are refusing to take them. They are getting angrier instead of calmer. There is new science emerging on the brain that suggests negative experiences change the physical structure of the brain. Demanding youth to go on time-outs becomes a negative experience for them, on top of what is making them 'misbehave' in the first place. I believe our job as youth workers is to provide as much positive interactions and trust as possible with our youth so that we can begin to re-wire the neuro-pathways in their brains to program a more positive physical structure. Ever try just hanging in with them when they are pissed off and acting inappropriately? By doing so, I believe you are showing them that you care about them despite their behaviour.
Here is another great little article by Henry Maier, Time Out/Time In: http://www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-1002-maier.html
The following quote sums up the most significant danger of time out:
"a time-out correction might duplicate earlier experiences in which the child has felt that he or she was not wanted, while the caregiver appears to signify that he or she does not have sufficient empathy for the child's situation. Asking a youngster to be away from the worker and removed from the group serves only to intensify previous feelings of rejection."
Another great read is The Catastrophe of Compliance by Lorraine Fox. Time Outs and other consequences that are imposed on youth by require youth to comply to the worker's will can have damaging effects on your relationship, ability to develop trust and the overall social development of the youth.
These are some things to consider. I do believe that the use of "time out' is now considered quite counter-productive to a relational Child and Youth Care approach. The youth we work with have often had enough rejection and punishment in their lives. We do not need to add to this.
If you are interested in changing your approach to a more "hanging in" style, maybe write us an example situation and we can give you some ideas. It is not easy to immediately change the ways we work with youth. It took me a few years to do away with time outs. I never use them at all now and I work with very aggressive and challenging behaviours.
I hope my comments help,
I strongly agree with Nancy’s comments. Often times we correctly rename “acting out behavior” as “attention seeking.” That’s how we should treat it – give the youth MORE attention because it is what he/she needs. Time out is giving the youth LESS of what is needed.
We build a relationship by staying close to the youth in difficult times.
I think the youth know what we should know. Time out is a ridiculous intervention! What good is a time out going to do for a young person with a thought disorder? They will spend their time thinking in distorted ways. What good does time out do for an immature young person? No one matures while sitting on a chair or in their room. What are they supposed to do with the “time”, given their mental and emotional challenges? The only useful time out, in my opinion, is time out spent with a staff member who can help them think through what just happened to cause the need for an intervention and to come up with a better approach. I would refer you to all the wonderful work done on “Life Space Intervention”, the only useful time out as far as I’m concerned.
I agree that Time Outs as we know them are not effective. But some places still use them. How can we assist CYCs when the agency expects it of their staff? Can we use Time Outs to teach self regulation without having them sit alone in their rooms?
Show them the research! There are lots of articles published now that describe the dangers of time out. Do a google search. Here is one example: http://www.awareparenting.com/timeout.htm
Peter brings up a good point that although time-outs are not found to be effective they are still used in many programs. I received Aggression Replacement Training (ART) and part of the time out process involved a number of questions for the youth/adult to focus/reflect on during their time out. This would be discussed after the time out period to look for proactive steps to avoid time outs in the future. Did it always work? No, but for a few it did. Taking part of the time out period to go through the questions with the individual was also at times effective but again they need to have calmed down. Time outs can be a walk with the individual as they unwind without you engaging verbally. I do think that having a discussion with each individual to find out what works best for them is key when they begin to get angry, anxious, etc. Some individuals like to be left alone and have a discussion later; others do not want to be left alone but require specific redirection. I don't think that anything we try as CYCW-Ps is the end all to be all for ALL the individuals in our care. We are treasure hunters seeking out the approaches that work best for each child in a system that does not always support flexibility.
At one of the homes I worked in we called them 'Time Aways' and they could be staff initiated or youth initiated. I actually liked this approach because I do think that sometimes leaving a situation is the best way to be able to come back and deal with it rationally. I always framed it as telling to the youth to go take the time they need and they could come back whenever they were ready. If a youth is refusing I'd use their refusal to open a dialogue about their actions and see if they could regulate if given a second chance. Of course, if a youth is escalated and that's why they're refusing this may not work, but in that case, when it's possible I'd see if another staff member could engage the other youth in an alternate activity in another room. Thus semi-enforcing the time away without the original youth having to move. Alternately you could offer to take the youth on a walk and this gives them potential time they need as well as a chance to debrief. I found as well that giving the youth the chance to take their own time was very effective for those who choose to use it. I feel I should also mention, I never sent a youth to their room. I would just ask them to go to a different room in the house or sit outside the current activity for a time.
I don’t think we can “teach” kids anything therapeutic by putting them away from us and leaving them alone. What they learn is that they are not worthy of our time and attention, even when they are unpleasant or worse.
Thanks for the questions.
In reflection of being in that exact situation throughout my career, I feel as CYCs we still have a choice. We have many tools in our tool box that we can use to support children and youth. We can also obtain new tools. As Child and Youth Care practitioners we struggle with this topic because the core of our practice is relational. Relationships also have value in the workplace as we are team-based oriented. Having supports (whether formal and/or informal) can also be important for our own self-care and reduce workplace stress. Gharabaghi (2010) speaks to these and many other professional issues in Child and Youth Care practice. What struck me most is how much it resonated and supported the fact that we are a unique practice that requires our attention, care, and action in order to develop it into a strong profession.
Regardless of what I have been "asked" to do, if it goes against Child and Youth Care practice then I do not participate. I choose to participate in another way: Sometimes it calls for us to be creative. Thus, as raised in my first post, I've created intentional safe spaces or in-the-moment safe spaces with young people. Yet, prior to such circumstances and throughout discourse with young people, is the value of life space connections built through the therapeutic relationship. As we walk alongside young people, we ourselves learn more on how to apply our practice.
Sometimes it calls for us to be educators. We educate those around us through our verbal and non-verbal actions. We are role-models. We are champions for children and youth. We are advocators. We can even be community capacity builders.
In short, our practice calls us to be many things. It is up to us to decide the route we will take and how we represent ourselves.
I know there exists fear of employers and/or other co-workers' perceptions. Our focus on Child and Youth Care practice supports the job we are meant to do. Our actions reflect our practice. Ultimately, we are here to do what is in the best interest of children and youth.
Reflective practice is also important. For myself, I engage in it throughout the day as it helps keep me focused in the moment. I also have engaged in what I call "productive" venting. A rough day at work is a rough day at work. Things are not always easy. Just to have a listening ear, a sounding board, and so forth can help us with reflection as well. Sometimes, just knowing that people are there to support us in the journey is all we need.
I'm currently listening to the book: How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish which addresses what Nancy is talking about. It's a great book with lots of step by step examples. There is also a version for youth with a similar title. I recommend it.
Live well, laugh often, love much,
I am surprised no-one has mentioned the use of restorative practice when things go wrong.
Rather than time-out someone trained in restorative practice would let the young person calm down and then listen to what had been going on for them – how they experienced what had happened, what was going on in their heads and how these thoughts were making them feel – listening without interrupting, judging, disapproving or lecturing.
The adult will have realised that the young person will have done what they did to address some kind of unmet need, albeit inappropriately.
After having experienced empathy in this way often the young person is ready, when then asked whom they think has been affected by what they did, to reflect on this and conclude that there had been ripple effects to their behaviour.
Next they can be asked what they need to move on and put things right and be encouraged to come up with ways to make amends for themselves.
If the harm caused involved others then this might be the first step in working towards a face-to-face mediation.
If anyone wants to find out more check out Just Care – a book available from on-line book stores all about using a restorative approach with young people in care
Amazing and insightful discussion! Thanks to all for sharing these ideas and thanks to David for starting the conversation.
Here are some questions I ask myself prior to giving any sort of consequence or intervention: What is the purpose of the consequence? What message am I sending the young person? In what way (specifically) does it help the young person to meet the need(s) that they are expressing? In what way will this intervention help the young person to build a new skill? How does this intervention build my relationship with the young person?
Those might be some things to think about in relation to timeouts. And if you find that timeouts can't adequately answer those questions, then what kinds of staff responses would be able to?
I also definitely agree with Dr. Hopkins. I've had great success with restorative practices. Youth are much more likely to have buy-in when they are involved in the discussion about what they can do to "make things right" and when they can see a clear connection between a consequence and a behavior. (That is, when the consequence is not arbitrary.) Whereas the message sent by a more traditional approach may be, "You are bad and you do not belong with us," the message sent by a restorative approach is, "When we make mistakes, we can fix them together."
How encouraging! That's what I want for myself when I make a mistake.
Looking forward to more great responses!