- The Ins and Outs of “Time-Out”
Dealing with challenging behavior is one of the most stressful aspects of parenting. Decades ago “hitting” children was an acceptable response to their negative behavior. As parents learned that physical punishment fails to prevent misbehavior, “hitting” became taboo and putting a child in “time-out” became the popular alternative. In “time-out” a child is sent or taken to an isolated area where s/he is expected to remain for a specified period of time; the time spent in “time-out” typically correlates with the child’s age, (i.e. three minutes for a three year old; five minutes for a five year old.)
Time-Out became popular for the following reasons:
- It is a relatively easy way to interrupt unwanted behavior.
- It offers the adult a needed space away from the child so the adult can calm down.
- It helps the adult refrain from using physical punishment by providing an alternative approach of responding to a child’s misbehavior
While “time-out” is preferable to physical punishment, it has limitations:
- A child who is naturally loquacious may need to talk out loud in order to think through a situation; this child sorts out his/her thoughts as they are expressed to others. Time-out alone will shut down this child’s thinking.
- A child who processes experiences with feelings and then later thoughts may shut down both thoughts and feelings when sent to “time-out.”
- If a child lacks information or skills, “time-out” alone will not provide them.
- “Time-out” may feel like the withdrawal of love or promote feelings of abandonment, both of which can be very frightening to a child.
- When children regard “time-out” as a punishment they often use their discomfort to blame the parent rather than learn fro the experience.
The ultimate goal with discipline is to have the child experience the uncomfortable feelings associated with making a poor choice and then learn from the experience. The following model will help achieve this:
- Provide the child with guidance and explain what is likely to occur. For example, “If you leave your bike out in the street it’s possible someone might take it.”
- Allow the child to experience the natural consequences of his/her actions or behavior.
- Always model self control by remaining calm and composed without attributing blame or guilt to the child; blame or guilt decrease the likelihood that meaningful learning will occur.
- Offer much empathy when the child experiences an unpleasant outcome; you don’t have to agree with the child in order to understand and/or appreciate the child’s uncomfortable feelings.
- Assist the child in learning new strategies to prevent the same mistake or one of a similar nature to repeat.