Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Is Time-Out a harmful method of discipline? November 24, 2010

Filed under: health,Lacko Family Chronicles,motherhood — rjlacko @ 10:53 am

We are not spankers. Certainly, there have been times when my boys have pushed me to the point where I’ve given it serious thought. But what does hitting teach? Only that hitting is OK. And it’s not, in my opinion. What’s more, a smack in the rear doesn’t resolve the initial conflict.

Over the last five and a half years of parenting, my husband and I have relied heavily on time-outs, using the age-to-minutes ratio often “recommended.” It has done precious little to alleviate undesirable behavior and offers more to us as parents in the form of a moment to clear our own heads (which should not go undervalued.)

Kimberley Clayton Blaine, , MA, MFT, is the executive producer of the online parenting show TheGoToMom and author of The Go-To Mom’s Parents’ Guide to Emotion Coaching Young Children, and The Internet Mommy, says too many time-outs may be ineffective at best, and downright harmful at worst. She suggests kids subjected to repeated time-outs may develop poor emotion control because they are left alone without support and validation when they need it most. “Empathy is truly the foundation for effective parenting, and it is also necessary in creating a stronger bond between parent and child,” she adds. “Time-outs are the antithesis of that.”

Blaine advocates an alternate method that takes into account a child’s developmental limitations and that serves as guidance rather than punishment. For children over two, she suggests using a “cool-down” or “thinking time” instead. Not only is this method gentle, it keeps the parent by the child’s side to help him learn to calm himself down and think through what happened. (Incidentally, for babies two and under, Blaine recommends distraction and redirection instead. At this age your baby is simply too young to understand the concept of a thinking time; instead, give him a new item of interest or move him to an exciting location.)

Here are Blaine’s steps teach you how to use a cool-down or thinking time successfully:

Get down at your child’s level. Be sure to maintain good eye contact; give a warning and ask if what she is doing is “okay” or “not okay.” If your child doesn’t calm down or stop the unacceptable behavior, then lead him to a “quiet area” or “thinking area.” Sit with him and offer assistance and love. Remember, this is not a punishment.

Be aware that time is not important—having your child calm down is. Disregard the “one minute times your child’s age” stance that most use as a guide. Don’t give a five-year-old “five minutes to think”; sometimes the older child needs only a minute or two to come up with a better solution. On the other hand, a younger child may need to cuddle or sit with you for ten minutes until she’s calm. As you’re sitting there, empathize, validate and reflect what you see. An understood child is less likely to be fraught. Once your child is calm, ask him to tell you “what’s wrong” or “what’s going on.” Restate the problem again more clearly if he has difficulty.

Ask your child, “What will you do differently next time?” Name the expected behavior if she doesn’t know. Thank your child for helping you come up with a solution. It’s important that he hears this positive reinforcement.

Set the expectation for the future by wrapping up with, “If you don’t listen next time, what will happen?” Inform your child that you will take actions to help and that you will not tolerate unacceptable behavior.

“Responding to your child in a reasonable, calm and patient manner is absolutely vital in building a connection,” says Blaine. “And, after all, connection is the key ingredient in helping guide our children. Punishment, on the other hand, forces a disconnection that undermines the goal of helping them someday become independent.”

On the surface, I really like this approach, but it might be unrealistic. Blaine seems to overlook that some behavior is not just inappropriate or undesirable but downright unacceptable.  I have to wonder if my child would mistake my “validation and positive reinforcement” for a direct signal that it’s OK to use bad behavior, because there really are no consequences. Mommy will be right there with a hug and a kiss when rules are broken, just like she is when good behavior occurs. So what’s the difference?  He is rewarded either way.

Perhaps it is only my short-coming, but I am driven to great sadness when my boys are unkind to one another. Hurtful deeds including punching, pushing or “you’re-not-my-friend-ing” make me so upset. My worst fear is that, as they grow in muscularity and power, they may one day do actual harm to one another. And on a deeper level, I want them as siblings to be close throughout their lives, to stand up for each other and hold one another in the highest esteem. We are family and we love and encourage one another, at all times. At least, that’s what I keep telling them! So, when this happens I separate them through time-out. From where I stand, you can’t continue to play with someone you are harming. When we’ve all had a moment to calm our heads, I do go and talk to the perpetrator and reinforce our loving, gentle treatment of one another and after they hug, say sorry, and accept the apology, they may continue playing together again…until the next infraction, that is.

Do you have an effective, loving method of discipline? Please comment below!

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4 Responses to “Is Time-Out a harmful method of discipline?”

  1. Garrett Erickson Says:

    RJL,
    Thank you for this post. Although I have subscribed to the spanking method, I have begun to see its limitations recently. With a 3 & 4 year old I often find myself overwhelmed with discipline options. Reading this has jogged my memory of the many times my girls have asked me to ‘sit with them’ in timeouts. As you describe it, it makes sense to each of their little personalities. Thanks again.

    GDE

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