Isolation And It’s Negative Effects

With the ongoing pandemic going on, my husband and I have been in isolation for eleven months now, and in October,  the one place I could safely go in was taken away because of the rising numbers of COVID-19.  So except for rides and medical appointments, I have not been anywhere in four months.  There’s a little hope with the new president that takes the virus seriously and with the shots that may prevent COVID-19, but there’s a lot of uncertainty and people still don’t want to take proper precautions to limit the spread.

All this is leading to unprecedented anxiety, depression, and desperation for me and many others.   I am a trauma survivor with the serious side effects of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and CPTSD.  I am losing track of the days and I am feeling like time is going in a weird speed.  My trust issues and abandonment issues are becoming worse and I don’t want to push the very people who truly love me away.  It’s a scary, lonely place and I am continuing to work with a therapist to get through the trauma of the abuse that was heaped upon me. But even therapy is harder because I can’t go in person.

This has been leading me to think about isolating time-outs for children.  I know I covered it in this post I wrote a few years ago, but with this new understanding of isolation and what it is doing to my 39-year-old brain, I want to talk about it again.

Isolation can definitely cause negative effects on the child’s brain as well as adults.  Here’s research showing the effects of isolation on the brain.

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It can cause anxiety, depression, desperation, despair, anger, and hopelessness.  This article shows the research on the effects of social isolation.  We are social beings that need meaningful relationships.  As someone with a severe disability, even before the pandemic started, there have been many times in my life that I was in a room full of people but I still felt lonely because I wasn’t able to find a deep relationship with anyone there.  I communicate easier online due to my slurred speech, but I still require in-person interaction.

This all leads me to isolation and children.  While toddlers will be ok with this pandemic and the quarantine as long as they have supportive adults who are able to manage their stress, older children are definitely being effected by not having the same level of social opportunities that they used to have.   Sadly, suicide rates for children are increasing.  Some children live in abusive or dysfunctional homes and they have lost their outlet of school and other activities that give them a break from their home lives.

Due to the experience of being isolated from the world except for online, I have an even better understanding isolating time-outs. Using isolating time-out is damaging to the child’s brain. I am not talking about the quick break that we all need sometimes.  I am talking about forcing the child to sit quietly alone for a specific amount of time and then making it longer if he/she doesn’t sit quietly.  This is punishment and harmful.  It is essentially isolation.

While if a parent is still bent on using punishment, I would rather have the parent use time-out rather than spanking/hitting their children.   However,  isolating time-out doesn’t teach anything but that the child deserves to be alone until he/she can behave.  Children, especially young children, have no sense of time so they feel like it is forever.  I remember feeling that way when I was put in my room and I would scream with anger and fear.  I hated my parents.  It didn’t teach me anything.

My husband remembers his dad leaving him for a brief period of time and he felt anxious about when his dad would be back because even though he was 8-years-old and old enough to be left briefly, he still had no sense of time.  

As I mentioned in my previous post about time-outs, children are usually not sitting there thinking about what they did wrong.  Rather, they’re angry, confused, in fight or flight mode, and wondering how much longer they have to sit there.  Some may learn to berate themselves for messing up.  Some may learn to distract themselves during the time-out.

Time-in, however, allows for quiet time with a supportive adult even if he/she just sits nearby until the child calms down enough to talk through what happened.  The adult can use time-in to teach children emotional regulation, empathy, validation, and coping skills such as deep breaths or using words to help them express themselves in a healthy manner.

 I understand that we are all on edge right now but isolating children to punish them will only make the children feel even worse and may exacerbate negative behaviors.  We all need to give each other grace and empathy during this ongoing stressful time.

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Using Time-IN Instead Of Time-Out

Many parents use “Time-Out” to punish their children, especially parents that do not want to spank/hit but feel that they must punish or “discipline” their children somehow. While I would rather have parents that are bent on using punishment with their children use time-out over spanking, time-out is still very harmful to young children when it is used as punishment. As with spanking, time-out is most often used with very young children.

The youngest child that I have witnessed with whom a time-out was being used was eighteen months old. Like being slapped, eighteen-month-olds do not understand why they are being forced to sit alone for one minute. And like spanking, it very temporarily stopped the behavior, which means multiple time-outs for toddlers that lack impulse control. This is not good and sends the wrong message to children.

Time-outs require that children sit alone, sometimes facing the wall, quietly for the amount of minutes corresponding with their age. For example, if the child is one, they sit for one minute; for a two-year-old, it’s two minutes; for a three-year-old, it’s three minutes, and so on.

What’s even worse is if the child gets up, talks, or even cries during the time-out, then their time starts completely over until he or she “successfully” completes the time-out. This can mean a five-minute or more time-out for a toddler that cannot fulfill the requirements of a time-out.  And this inability to sit quietly for a time-out often leads to the child getting spanked/hit.

As with physical punishment, I’m afraid that whoever came up with the time-out and its associated rules did not understand child development, nor did they understand our loving God. Christ never banished anyone. So why should we banish our children when we can’t deal with their behaviors?

Young children cannot sit still and quietly with nothing to do for very long. And they are not sitting there pondering why what they did was wrong. Time-outs are totally developmentally inappropriate for young children and sets them up for failure.

In fact, research shows that time-out is just as harmful to children as spanking is because being forcefully isolated activates the same areas of the brain as spanking does. We were created for human connection.  This is especially true when we’re upset about something.

My husband and I have been going through some hard times lately, and I am still grieving for my grandpa and my mother-in-law.  Sometimes I feel very alone because of everything that we’re going through and I have found that feeling isolated only makes my depression, grief, and anxiety worse.  The comfort and support from my husband and family and friends are what helps me feel better.  Isolation is truly the worst feeling ever!

My parents sometimes put me in my room during a meltdown.  It only made me feel really angry and I would scream even louder and say, “I hate you.”  I never sat and thought about my behavior during those times.  I only thought about how angry I was and how unfair they were being.

Trust me, children do not think about their behavior during time-outs.  They’re totally focused on their own feelings and being upset.

Now, I totally understand and agree that there are times when children are just having a hard time and need to be removed from the situation in order to calm down and deal with their big feelings.  This is where time-in is very helpful.

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Time-in, unlike time-out, is not punishment. To use time-in with young children, set up a “comfy corner” in the most lived in room of your house but away from the action.  Put a couple pillows and a blanket in it.  Depending on how your children cope with their big feelings, you can have a few books in there, soft music, or some paper and crayons.  Just don’t fill it up too much as the idea is to limit stimulation and help the child calm down.

There is no quiet rule, no set time for them to remain in time-in, and they can choose to have us come with them or not.  If we don’t come with them to time-in, then we sit nearby and are available to help them if they need it.

Connection and healing are the main goals for time-ins.  Young children have so many big feelings about everything and they just don’t know how to express and deal with them.  Many times when children are acting up it means that they are feeling very disconnected from us.  They need us to bring them back into our connection and help them regain their control over their bodies and feelings.  They need to be heard and validated.

If we use time-in consistently without forcing the toddler to go to his or her “comfy corner,” the toddler may begin to ask to go there when he or she senses his or her big feelings welling up. Toddlers learn that their feelings matter to their parents and to God. This is such an important step for teaching young children self-management skills because their feelings are validated and respected, and they are given appropriate choices for dealing with their feelings.

Of course, it’s perfectly okay for parents to take a few minutes to calm down if their children are having a particularly rough day.  A parent “time-out/in” is very appropriate for these types of situations so that you don’t lose it with your child. This is not punishment for either the parent or the child. All parents need a break from their children.

Just be sure to tell your children that you are feeling really upset and need a moment to calm down.  Children will appreciate knowing that sometimes Mommy and Daddy need their own time-in.

Dealing with meltdowns and upset children is never easy.  But our goal throughout parenting our children should always be maintaining a strong connection and trust with them.  Believe me, you will be grateful when your children are teenagers and feel free to come to you about anything!

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Guest Post: A Walmart Story By Elaine Murphy

Just got back from the Walmart. My husband and I heard a child screaming in what sounded like pain. I’m ignoring it realizing that I’m in Walmart and that’s a common sound and I don’t want to go off on anybody because one of these days, I’m going to be killed during one of my “parenting” interventions. The crying went on and on unabated. I was having a panic attack and told my husband that I had to find this child obviously in distress and no doubt being abused.

In the frozen food aisle, there they were. A beautiful toddler boy with long brown hair being cradled on his young mother’s lap as she sat on the floor rocking him back and forth telling him that she’s sorry that he’s upset. She also told him, “I’m sorry it’s not here. We’ll talk to the store people and see if it will be in soon.”

Then, an older girl about ten walked up and said, “They said it won’t be here for a couple of days.” As she rubbed the little boy’s head.

The mother looked annoyed at this information, thanked her daughter and told the little boy again, “I’m so sorry.” The little boy nodded his head as he made a valiant attempt to choke back his tears.

The mother placed him gently back into the shopping cart and they went on their way. I walked over to the section of frozen food that was causing all of the distress and guessed by the empty section that is supposed to have a particular brand of vegan hot dogs that this may be what upset the little toddler.

What a great, loving, peaceful mom and big sister!

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