If you’ve ever placed a young child in a disciplinary time out, you know the scenario usually goes something like this:
Parent: I want you to sit on that chair and think about what you’ve done until the timer goes off.
Child: (30 seconds later) Is it time yet?
Parent: Not yet.
Child: (another 30 seconds later) Now is it time?
And so it continues, with the child continuously asking if he’s paid his penance by waiting out the kitchen timer. While they may have no concept how long the time span is, even small children know when the time is up they are once again free. When toddlers become teens, it’s a lot harder to disrupt their behavior patterns.
Dr. Daniel Sanderson, RedCliff’s clinical director, says most students arriving at RedCliff come with a time out mentality. “Much of what these students do in the initial part of treatment is asking is it time yet,” Doc Dan says.
Students assume that when a certain amount of time has passed, their parents will release them and the student will be free to resume his/her life.
What they fail to realize, Doc Dan says, is the time out mentality is over. RedCliff is really an opportunity for what he calls a “do-over.”
“Parents are done with timeouts,” he says. “They’re not sending their students to pay a penance. They’re not just immediately removing them because they need a break. They’re sending them for treatment.”
The do-over philosophy means parents are giving students an opportunity to re-establish the relationship at a different level. Parents effectively say to their student, “I need you to grow up enough to reset the relationship. If you can, we’ll reset to the point where we can begin to re-establish trust.”
The Parent Narratives help parents understand the nature of their interaction doesn’t have to mirror the same kind of process the student has encountered so many times before.
These assignments teach parents teach how to identify what their expectations are. “Just paying penance is not a part of that,” Doc Dan says. “There are actually some things the student needs to do.”
At RedCliff, the focus is on disrupting the dynamic. When the student asks if the time is up he gets a response that is far different than ever before.
“With a do over mindset, the amount of time becomes irrelevant,” Dan says. “The student is there until they have done what they need to do, or until they show that they have no interest whatsoever in a do-over.” He adds, “Then the parents have to make decisions based on the level of commitment the student has made.”
Doc Dan says some programs really are simply a time out. The parents get a rest from the student’s behaviors, the student waits out a certain amount of time, and then the whole process begins again right where it left off.
At RedCliff, there are concrete expectations of what the student should achieve. “That gives the parents and the therapist an opportunity to assess,” he explains. “It lets us assess whether or not the relationship with the parents really is the most important thing to the child or if they’re still all about staying in control.”
When parents ask how to tell if their student is really after a do-over, Doc Dan tells them this, “If it’s a do-over, we see this child living their life differently. The child has re-established, or maybe for the first time established the parent as the parent. The child is giving indications they want to be trusted and they’re willing to do whatever is necessary to earn that trust. The student is willing to respond to whatever level of structure the parent is establishing.”
Doc Dan says the student who is constantly checking on whether it’s long enough is actually interfering with the process of creating the do-over. “As long as the student has a time out mentality there’s a disconnect.”
Treatment, he says, is always focused on the relationship between the student and the parent. Neither the clock nor the calendar is accurate assessments of that commitment.
“The students determine that themselves,” Dan says.