This is a guest post by my husband Chris.
Christa has written previously that "time out" sometimes meant holding Ben's arms, and even holding him down on the bed until he was calm.
As Ben grew older and stronger, the challenge of keeping him from hitting, scratching, or kicking required the application of greater force. In practice this meant lying him face down on the bed, my one hand clasping his wrists together behind his back, my other hand holding his ankles.
Thankfully I rarely felt I had to resort to this maneuver, because I hated to use it every time. I hated the rage inside Ben that made him try to hurt us. And I hated my own choice to pin Ben down as if he were a wild animal.
But then he would provoke me to give him time outs. And soon he started asking for them. With help from his teacher we came to understand that the physical pressure of being held immobile was calming to him when he was feeling out of control.
Until the day it wasn't enough. I don't even remember the trigger any more. Ben had already broken my glasses and scratched my face. Holding him on the bed wasn't working--he was thrashing his head, trying to bite me, and wriggling his feet out of my grasp so that he could kick himself free. I was frightened I was losing control of him. Scared that he would hurt himself or both of us. And I was angry. Angry this was happening to our family. To me.
I scooped him up in a bear hug and carried him into the hall.
"No, Daddy, no!!!" he screamed.
I laid him down on the cold hard wood floor. I knelt on his legs, pinned his arms behind his back, and turned his face so that all he could see was a blank wall. And I held it there.
"No, Daddy, no!!!"
From his bedroom, Christa cried and pleaded with me to let him go.
I cried and said I did not know what to do.
Beneath me, Ben screamed and cried.
And calmed himself down.
When it was done all three of us cried and hugged each other. I promised to myself I wouldn't treat Ben that way again.
But then he started asking.
"I need a time out," he'd say.
"Then go stand in the corner," I'd say. "Time out means you stand in the corner for two minutes."
Sometimes this would be enough. Sometimes he would stand in the corner, like a "typical" kid.
But then he would ask again.
"I want a time out when you hold me to the wall."
"That's not a time out," I'd say. "Do you need a big tight squeeze?"
"No. What is it when you hold me to the wall?"
"I did that one time. You were so mad you couldn't calm down."
"Can you show me what happened when you held me to the wall?"
He persisted. I gently laid him down on the floor, and mimed holding him there. Satisfied, he got up, and switched activities.
But later, when he was feeling anxious, he would hit me, flail his arms in the air, and shout "I'm so mad I can't calm down! I'm so mad I can't calm down."
I would try to soothe him with hugs and gentle words. And sometimes that would be enough. But sometimes he would insist, and I wanted to give him what he was seeking without him thinking he had to hurt me to get it.
So I'd hold him to the floor, against the wall, and feel him calm his body down.
I mostly did this by request. Sometimes at moments of conflict or stress, when words began to fail, I would ask him "Are you so mad you can't calm down?" I did not know whether he perceived it as a threatened consequence, or as an escape hatch for his anxiety. I did not know if it mattered.
It has been months since I have held Ben to the wall. Months until a week ago.
He had already pulled off my glasses, and thrown the Wii console to the floor. He was unwilling or unable to respond with words, and he was trying to bite any part of me he could reach.
I lifted him up and brought him into the hall. I laid him down, and held him there, all the while speaking calmly about all the fun things he could do if he wanted: listen to a story, play with trains, watch a show, have a snack.
"Shut up, you idiot!"* he hissed, and tried to bite me again.
Christa sat on a nearby stool and began to cry. She asked if I could move him to a bed, at least.
"Not without him hurting me," I said sadly.
Ben stopped struggling.
"What did you say?" he asked.
"I said I thought you might hurt me if I try to carry you to the bed."
"I'm sorry, Daddy." Ben said. All the tension was gone from his voice. And, I quickly realized, his arms and legs.
I let go of him, and he stood up.
"You're my best friend, Daddy." He gave me a gentle hug. "I love you guys."
He walked over to Christa, who was still crying. "I'm sorry, you guys. I love you."
And with that, the incident was over. Something--perhaps the sound of Christa crying, or perhaps a realization that he could really hurt me--had flipped a switch inside him.
He walked out to the living room to read his books.
*Language thanks to a variety of G-rated Disney entertainment.
We're fortunate that these kinds of incidents are fairly infrequent and relatively brief. But any time we have to physically restrain our son it leaves us, as Chris describes with utmost honesty, emotionally wrung out and shaken.
I'm hoping to hear from other parents and caregivers about how you keep everyone safe in the midst of meltdowns and rages, how you handle your own emotional response and how you have helped your children learn non-agressive responses to overwhelming emotions.