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ADD, ADHD, Brain Skills, Children, Discipline, Family Bonds, Patience, Peace, Quiet, Relationships, Repair, Return to Joy

Both of my boys have been extremely hyper today. It is clear their little brains have been spinning which causes their behavior to spiral out of control. They keep getting into trouble which means a lot of time spent in quieting practice. In case you are wondering what quieting practice is, I would like to tell you about this sanity-saving opportunity designed to reset their boisterous brains.

A couple of years back my husband and I changed how we handle discipline. Around the time we discovered Matthew exhibited symptoms of ADD/ADHD we knew we needed some useful solutions. Matthew was very hyper which meant he was in constant motion, incredibly impulsive, unable to focus or calm down and he ended up in trouble because he did not listen, stop or obey. Timeouts and other discipline techniques were not working. My husband and I felt like we were spinning on an out of control merry-go-round!

We realized, ultimately, one crucial skill was missing because my son was not able to effectively quiet himself. His inability to “down-regulate” and calm down was impacting every one of his relationships and every single interaction. In many ways, it is like trying to walk when you have a leg cramp. This is no easy task, and for my son, his brain was in a cramp, and he needed some relief!

For children with ADD or ADHD, it is much more difficult to quiet. Some brain regions are working too hard while other areas are not working hard enough. This means children need more practice to learn how to calm and quiet as well as learn to use the skill effectively in life and relationships. Even when children have learned the quieting skill we parents must help our children find the motivation to use it. Learning a skill and having the motivation to use it are separate issues and each requires persistent effort and clear guidance.

Now back to how we handle discipline issues. Instead of a “Timeout,” we frequently tell our boys to take a “Quiet Practice.” This means they must go to a designated chair and sit quietly and take some deep breaths to calm their body and thoughts. They are not allowed to talk or play with toys. We usually wait until they have been still and quiet for about 2 minutes then we release them. If they talk or interact, the time starts all over. If they “sit and stew” or look enraged all the while sitting still, the 2 minutes does not begin until it is obvious they are trying to calm themselves. Their designated seat is usually somewhere in the room with me, so I can see if they are quieting, but if they are both in quiet at the same time and interacting with each other, we send them to their separate rooms, so they no longer interact.

Sometimes Matthew and Andrew argue about going to quiet or, if they are angry, while walking to their quiet moment they will do something destructive or mean. This leads to what we call a “punishment” or “consequence.” In the past, when they did not obey, I would take away television privileges or toys for the day, but the problem was it was such a significant consequence I did not have additional options if they further disobeyed. We had to find a small enough consequence that I had enough options when they would rack up 10-15 on the way to their quiet destination! We had defined punishment as 5 minutes without toys though when we first started this process, we started with 2 minutes while they were getting used to the new system.

While there are still occasions when we use other kinds of consequences for behavior, this is our go-to system. What I enjoy about incorporating quieting into their consequences is this: no matter the reason they end up in trouble, they will benefit from quieting whether they are sad, mad, overwhelmed, or frustrated. While this is especially helpful for Matthew with his ADD, it is also beneficial for Andrew as well.

I am thankful to say that the day has improved after the boys spent much of their morning in quiet. They better regulate their emotions and are staying kind to each other. They are more grounded than before and the day has not spun out of control as it would have in the past. Now that they have practiced this skill for some time, I often say to Matthew, “You are getting hyper, go calm yourself, or you will end up in a longer quieting practice,” and he can calm down his energy levels before he needs a formal consequence. All of this has gone smoother because my husband and I first practiced quieting ourselves and spent a lot of time quieting with the boys when they were infants. Quite simply, every one of us benefits from some much-needed rest.

Discipline is a hot topic today because there are many strong opinions and different camps on what’s appropriate – or not. This can feel overwhelming. Additionally, many of us parents feel hopeless trying to find what works for our children. I find it helpful to remember that discipline is not so much about getting results. Instead, it is about guiding our children to learn how to manage and return to joy from distressing emotions, learn to stay themselves while feeling upset and learning right from wrong. These are gifts we can give our children and are a rewarding investment in their future.

This article was originally posted on Feb. 22, 2017. 

Posted in Parenting

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  1. Marsha

    Love this. As a grandma I wish I knew about this when mine were little, but now I can pass it on to the young moms that I know. Great info for our Joy Groups. Blessings, Keep those blogs coming

  2. Heidi

    Hmm, I’d appreciate some feedback as I imagine I must be missing a vital step or an aspect of understanding. I understand the quieting aspect, but the way this is done strikes me as “negative” vs “positive.” If I were using this with my little niece, I’d want to start with “we’re going to sit together quietly for two minutes breathing deeply….” so she’d learn it from me and recognize it as a good thing. The “go calm yourself down” … brings back too many “go to your room until you can behave yourself” memories without the glad to be with you and helpful modeling. Thanks.

    • Jen Coursey

      Heidi, you bring up a good point. If children do not have the skill of quieting themselves it will be difficult for them to quiet without a model. We have been quieting with our boys since they were infants and this is a skill they have, they just need more practice and do not always realize when they need to regulate themselves. By giving them the option of quieting themselves before things escalate to the need for a consequence we are reminding them to practice the skill they already have (helping with motivation to use the skill). When we first started implementing “quiet practice” Andrew was only 3 years old and sometimes his feelings were bigger than he could calm on his own so I would sit with him in quiet, and even now we do that on occasion when we see they need a little help. But since we know they have the skill, most of the time we expect that with a reminder they will be able to use it without our assistance.

  3. Karen Struble

    Great article, Jen! Very practical help for parents. I love how you and Chris are raising your boys. 🙂


  4. Pam bryan

    Jen thx for this article again. I’m assuming the info is same for ADD adults’ brains … who need to quiet their brain AND get info and motivation about practice.
    In some cases it seems this MAY be a way out of ADD meds for some folks.

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