Time-Out Not The Universal Answer
There are no magic answers when it comes to child discipline. Let’s face it, if I could make a pronouncement that if you do this or that every time your child misbehaves the behavior will stop forever, I would be the beloved guru of child raising.
But, it’s all about the relationship between the child and parent, the temperaments of each, and the situation.
The goal of any form of discipline is not only to end the misbehavior but more importantly to teach the child why what he did is inappropriate and what he could do next time.
Currently, there seems to be a belief that time out is the universal panacea. So let’s first take a look at time out.
A time out is an opportunity to take a break, to calm down and to re-assess. If I have been sitting at my computer for three hours writing and find that the words are no longer coming, it’s time to take a break. A time-out. I may go for a coffee or a walk or simply stand and stretch. But I remove myself from the situation that is no longer working for me.
Parents tell me that they send their child to a particular corner, chair (the dreaded naughty chair) or to their room. The child is to stay for a prescribed length of time, generally based on his age, and when the time is up, it is expected that he has calmed down and thought about what he did wrong.
Whenever I look at this scenario, I picture it as a child being sentenced to a short term of time in ‘jail’. I imagine that during his incarceration he may be considering his faults but I am more likely to believe that he is angry and trying to figure out how not to get caught next time.
There are definitely times when a break is needed. A toddler who is all revved up and over-stimulated needs a time out. But what he needs is to simply be helped by a caring adult who will soothe him and help him to settle down. This may take two minutes or 20 or he might actually fall asleep. What he is learning is the importance of taking a break whenever he gets too excited.
On the other hand, let’s say that eight-year-old Olivia is riding her bike and you see her go through a stop sign without stopping. Giving her a time out makes absolutely no sense. What she needs is a consequence that helps her learn that the rules of the road are paramount when she is bike riding. You might suggest that riding her bike is a privilege and one she is going to lose for a day. When you return the bike you can talk to her about the rules of the road and send her on her way.
We can also model time-out. When you’re nose-to-nose with your eight-year-old and tempers are flaring look at him and say: “I need a time-out. We can continue this when I calm down. I’m going for a walk around the block.”
My friend Nicole is mother of a large and noisy family. They all thrive in the hustle-bustle created when they get together. Recently her son invited his friend Jeremy to come on a weekend camping trip. When they returned home Nicole told me that she noticed that from time to time, when the stimulation of her rowdy family became too much for Jeremy he’d quietly wander off on his own 15 or 20 minutes and return full of energy.
Jeremy had learned from his parents about taking a break. When he was a toddler his parents would remove him when he ‘lost it’ with his friends and would help him calm down. By the time he started school his mom could simply say, “Jeremy, you need to take a break.” And he’d leave the room until he calmed down. And now, at age 12 he knows how to self-calm. And that’s what time-out is about.
Time-out is the coffee break of life. Let’s treat it like that. Taking a time-out shouldn’t be a punishment; it should be a wonderful chance to settle down.