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Child Caring

Au pair needs help with the 5 pm cranky time

I am an au pair looking after an 8 year old boy who every night around 5pm gets into a mood where he refuses to do what is is asked and acts out against others etc. However, when I tell him to go into time out, he simply refuses to do so. Then runs away and hides. I am also looking after 2 other children and cannot take myself away from the youngest in order to chase after him and play hide & go seek. I do not know how I can get him to do what he is asked.

From: Newtol, No location given


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Dear Newtol,

Forget time-out. It doesn't work with every kid -- some are too strong-willed for it; it doesn't work at certain ages -- under 4, over 8; and it doesn't work if it's over-used. Here are some other ideas:

1. Examine what you're asking him to do. Are you too vague? Too complicated? Too screechy? Age-inappropriate?

2. At some quiet time (that is, not late in the afternoon when this usually happens), talk to him about this without accusing him of a particular wrong-doing: "It seems like every day around the same time, you get unhappy. Any idea why? Any ideas about how I can help you? 'Cause you know what? You're too old for time-out and I hate to see you so miserable." Throw some suggestions out: Are you hungry? Are you anxious for your parents to come home? Are you bored?

3.. If you're lucky and a cause pops up, obviously brainstorm what to do about it: "Ah, so you need a better snack!"

4. Enlist him in the solution: "You want to do something physical. What about indoor gym and you be the gym teacher? Can you think of some activities the little kids could do, like jumping jacks? Running up and down the driveway and you time them?" "So the little kids get on your nerves. What can we do about this?" It sounds like one possibility is that he wants your attention. Is there something he can do on his own that you would then react to later? Draw a comic strip? Read a chapter in a book you're reading together?

5. Make a personal appeal: "Listen, you're the oldest, you know the ropes. I need your help because when you get crazy, the little kids do, too."

6. Anticipate the onset of the time when he typically gets balky. (What about creating an agreed-upon name to the behavior: the witching hour?) "It's almost your witching hour. How you doing?"

7. The next time the misbehavior happens and he balks at the agreed-solution, find a time to ask him what went wrong. "You were really unhappy this afternoon and I could see our solution didn't work. Back to the drawing board. What ideas do you have?"

8. Find a way to change up the nature of your relationship with him by doing something alone with him that he enjoys. That may make him more receptive at other times.

The idea in all of this is for him to see you as an ally in problem-solving, someone who is on his side rather than someone who is being mean and punitive and whose authority he has to fight.