Three generations ago, adults said, “Children should be seen and not heard.” The next generation knew better. Two generations ago, spanking was more universally viewed as an acceptable means of punishment. The next generation knew better. One generation ago, time out was seen as the solution to unacceptable behavior. Today, we know better. Time out – sending children to be isolated – teaches the wrong lessons. It is time to abolish it.
When we send children to time out, we do teach them. We teach them that when things don’t go well, you go away from me. When things get emotional, you will be isolated. We teach children that we do not want to deal with them because we have sent them away. Is it any wonder that when our children are teens and we want them to tell us what is wrong, they go to their rooms? We taught them to do that.
Time out is not a logical consequence for any action. It is not specific to the inappropriate event. It may stamp out behavior for now but, in the long term, children will just try to figure out another way to break your rule. Consequences need to make sense. Think about these scenarios:
“Stop fighting with your brother! Go to your room!” – Have you addressed the source of frustration that caused the fight so you could teach your child coping strategies? No, you have not. It is true that siblings who are fighting may need a break from playing together. That is entirely different than banishing them to their rooms so they can just sit there and be angry.
“You cannot talk to me like that. Go to time out!” Have you stayed out of the power struggle to model the respect that you want your children to learn? No, you have not. Children do need to know that they have to speak to us with respect. We have to tell them that in a less emotional manner that demonstrates self-control. The ultimate lesson is, after all, to learn self-control so they are careful about their words and intonation.
Stamping out behavior makes the adults feel better. We have ended an unpleasant and frustrating situation. We have stopped what we don’t enjoy but we haven’t actually addressed the problem. Unfortunately, that is merely a Band-Aid approach to a bigger issue. The bigger problems need more of our attention and not less. When our children need to be re-directed, bring them to you. Tell them that they cannot continue that activity right now and they need to sit near you. Calmly tell them that their behavior is unacceptable and to have a seat where you are. Explain:
“Fighting with your sister doesn’t solve your problem. In this family, we treat each other kindly even when we are frustrated. Come sit over here for a few minutes.” When your child calms down, talk about what caused the fight and how it should be handled next time. Give your child a choice of two other things to do if you don’t want the child to go back to the playroom.
“I am not yelling at you. Take a breath and talk to me nicely and with respect. Sit here for a few minutes while you calm down.” If your child yells and you yell, you have demonstrated that yelling is acceptable behavior for people in your family. If your child curses at you and you react emotionally, you have demonstrated loss of control and proven that losing control is acceptable. So much of parenting is about understanding that we are not children. We should not react to children like we are children ourselves.
You have the right to set rules. You can teach your children that inappropriate behavior during play time means that play time stops. You can teach them that they must be respectful and follow the rules or there will be consequences. Consider the lesson of the consequences and institute a method of “time in” rather than “time out.” Time in keeps you within the sight of your child so your child learns that even when you are mad, you are accessible. You will not abandon them when things go wrong. Sometimes, we need to stop what we are doing and that time doesn’t have to include the fear and anger that comes with isolation.
“You threw a toy. You cannot have that toy right now.” That’s a consequence that makes sense.
“You are yelling at me. Take a few breaths. When you speak nicely to me, we will continue this.” Stopping a conversation to regain composure makes sense.
“You aren’t playing nicely with your friend. You cannot play together right now.” What happens when we don’t play nicely? We can’t play. That’s logical.
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
“You need a spanking.”
“Go to your room! You need a time out!”
We didn’t know better. Let’s make them all a thing of the past. Open more doors of lasting communication. Actually teach your children about appropriate behavior, actions and reactions by saying, “Sit right here. Take a breath. Calm down. Where did that go wrong?” It’s time to abolish isolation and address behavior with “Time In.”
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