Saturday, 17 November 2012

Time Out on "Time Outs"

Time Out on “Time Outs”
I have been thinking about "Time Outs" lately, and wondering whether or not they are an effective way to discipline a child. First of all, I don`t like the word `discipline` and I definitely don`t enjoy the word `punishment` – As parents our role is not to `discipline` our children, it is our job to teach them appropriate boundaries, empathy, pro-social behaviour and many other important life skills.

I am not really sure how long parents (and teachers for that matter) have been using `time outs`, but they certainly became very popular with the help of Super Nanny.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Super Nanny, or just need a refresher – here is a clip:

After watching that clip – I am sure that anyone would be on board with giving those children time outs.
I used to get right into watching Super Nanny – I would get excited to see how `bad` the children were and how Super Nanny was going to deal with them. It always seemed to take a while, but eventually she would break them down and they would become much more manageable and obedient.

As an Early Childhood Educator, I never worked at a Childcare Centre that allowed Time Outs so I didn`t really have much experience with implementing them. I assumed that they were a good way of dealing with problematic behaviours – and that someday I would use them as a parent or teacher.

Then I became a mom…and have since read many different viewpoints when it comes to using time outs –when to use them, how to use them…are they harmful? Do they even work?
As some of you may know from reading my other blog entries, I have one child – a daughter named Finley. She is now 22 months old and technically getting to the age where time outs start to be given ( Around 2 years old – although I read that you can give them to children as young as 1 year old. )

For those of you that don`t know , time outs are given to children when they are behaving in a way that is unacceptable to you as a parent. They are placed somewhere on their own (usually on a chair or a mat) and told that they need to stay there. A time out lasts for 1 minute for every year that your child is old (2 years old = 2 minutes etc…). Once your child is done their time out – they are usually asked to apologize for what they have done and can then go back to playing.

It sounds relatively harmless…doesn’t it?

Then I thought about it - often children are placed on time outs because they are having a difficult time dealing with their emotions…usually anger, frustration, disappointment or sadness. Then, while they are at their most vulnerable – we stick them on a chair and force them to deal with that very difficult emotion on their own. What are we really teaching them in that moment? That they are alone in dealing with hard feelings – that “bad” behaviour will find you isolated and removed from everyone else.

Some parents out there might be thinking, yes – when a child is behaving “badly” they should be isolated or “punished”. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that it is okay for children to behave in ways that are unacceptable – what I am saying is that they shouldn’t be left alone to figure out why they feel what they feel.

Here is an interesting article about why time outs could be harmful to your child:

There were a few things that stood out for me about this article:
1)      “The child loses face and has plenty of time to sit around fantasizing revenge.  (Did you really think she was resolving to be a better person?)” (#4 on the list)

·         This made me laugh…the idea of my sweet little daughter plotting her revenge. I could actually see her doing that.

2)      “It weakens our bond with our child. Unfortunately, that bond is the only reason children behave to begin with.” (#5 on the list)

·         The bond that you have with your child is so important – from the time they are born you are teaching them whether they can trust that you will guide and protect them or not. (Attachment Parenting)
3)      “Timeouts are a terrific management technique for keeping your own emotions regulated.  When you find yourself losing it, take five.”

·         I am sure that all parents at some point will need their own time out – time to regroup and think about what the best course of action is.

 After reading the article – watch this clip from Super Nanny where she teaches a mom how to implement a time out. Do you think this time out is harmful or necessary?
Personally, I had a hard time watching that clip – I even had tears in my eyes. Perhaps I am a big sap, or I am just aware that the child in that clip was in distress and was having a very difficult time communicating what she actually needed. Instead of communicating with this little girl – that poor mother was guided to have a 1.5 hour power struggle just to have her child sit and apologize. Did that child actually learn anything? What does “sorry” really mean? Is it a “get out of time out free card”…or is it genuine remorse?

I can't imagine trying to put Finley in a time out when she is that upset. I believe that the mom in that clip was crying because there was something inside of her that told her that her child needed her - regardless of dinner needing to be made." Giving in" and  picking up her child is not the answer either - but there are other ways to work with your children instead of against them.
 Why not involve your child in what you are doing? Get them to help you make dinner - give them a list of the ingredients that you will need and see if they can find them in the fridge. Usually children just want to be doing what you are doing - which I realize is not always possible, but when it is - give them the chance to feel a part of what is going on. Instead of isolating them on a chair because they are not listening to you. If you get them involved from the beginning, it is less likely that a situation like this would require a time out (at the end of this clip you can even hear the child asking to "help" her mom - perhaps that is all she really wanted).
As it states in the above article, time outs are definitely better than using corporal punishment on your children – but is it the best, most effective tool in teaching your child appropriate behaviour and boundaries?

I think we can agree that time outs have the potential to harm developing self-esteem in your young children. So, what is the alternative? The alternative is Positive Discipline (although I prefer not to use the word Discipline). It is really about coaching and teaching your child how to regulate their own emotions and communicate their feelings before they become overwhelming. And if they do express difficult emotions in ways that are hurtful to others, that we teach them the importance of empathy – and truly being sorry for their behaviour (not using their “get out of time out free card”).

Positive Communication is key to any healthy relationship – including the relationship you have with your child.

I am not saying that you should never use a time out with your child, but I am hoping that after reading this blog entry you will think a bit differently about time outs and ask yourself whether they are necessary or harmful in the moment that you want to give one to your child (or student for that matter).

By being proactive, using positive discipline and getting your children involved when possible - you will find the "need" for time outs will be significantly reduced.
What is positive discipline? Stay Tuned for Part Two: Time out on “Time Outs” – Positive Discipline.

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  1. I need time outs all the time. :S Great post!! I think the issue, as you've explained, is bigger than time outs, but points to an approach of handling inappropriate behaviour with consequences as a primary or sole response. Time outs work when the child is so upset or angry that they need emotional space from the situation to regroup, or when the child needs to be removed because they are causing harm or at risk of being harmed if the behaviour continues. Otherwise, the most effective approaches are: (a) teach, (b) distract, (c) find an appropriate replacement behaviour. Let's imagine that a kid is hitting. If they are angry, teach them what it feels like to be angry and help them to be empathetic to the victim. Especially if the child is very young, distract with an activity that engages their hands. And analyze why they're hitting, giving them alternative strategies (e.g. When I'm angry, I take a break and walk away, or I ask for help). Consequences are so uncreative, unhelpful, and uncool (unless they are logical/natural). Boo to time outs. Yay for Professor Mom!!

  2. Excellent post Meg! You are such an inspiration, both as a parent and an Early Childhood Educator. I admire that you are "thinking outside of the box" and not just going with the norm. Perhaps timeouts were a great solution when they were first implemented, but that does not mean that they are the only solution to guiding a child's behaviour. Please please please keep writing! :)

  3. Great Post Meghan! That second clip made me uncomfortable too. I look forward to Part II!

  4. Thank you for all of your comments! I hope I wasn't too negative about time outs - I just wanted people to think differently about them. I find that they are really over-used and often times there is a better solution. I realize that it can be hard to know what that "better solution" is in the moment. Hopefully Part 2 will be helpful in seeing some alternatives.

  5. I totally agree with everything you are all saying. Teaching moments always works when I am rested, patient and feeling good. The time I'm tempted to give a time out (or other "uncool consequences") is when I am not those things. What I do in that situation is give myself a time out. I tell her (a toddler who is fond of bossing) that how she is talking to me hurts my heart, or makes me sad, so I'm going to go in the other room for a bit. Usually she calms down and comes in and is wanting to talk about our feelings.
    Anyway, thanks Meghan, I love your posts. I really appreciate the thoughtful support.

  6. Hey Gina! Thanks for commenting. We all have those moments when we are stressed out and tired. When you don't have the patience to try and figure out exactly what your child needs in that moment. I find that it can be hard to figure out what I need sometimes, let alone what Finley needs! I like how you time yourself out and let your daughter know that she is hurting your feelings. It is so important for them to understand that other people have feelings and that their actions can impact those feelings - positively and negatively.

  7. I'm so glad that you commented on my post on my blog which "comment luved" this post. I read that article you linked to a long time ago and have been doing things differently ever since. My anxiety constantly gets worked up though when the daycare uses the time outs and SO ineffectively. He gets sent home with notes saying how they isolated him in a room by himself, and then didn't start his time out until he stopped "fake" crying. Then, they wonder why he "purposely peed his pants" while in the time out. It seems so obvious to me that it's not working, yet they're the "professionals" with "licenses" like LCSW and other early childhood crap, but where's the intuition and nurturing??? ugh... sorry for the rant, but thanks for this post!

    1. Hi Kelly,

      I am so glad that you read MY post :) Can I ask what "behaviours" gets your son a time out at daycare? I can't imagine getting a note like that from my child's educator. There is obviously a problem if your child is peeing their pants while on time out. Either he will do anything to avoid a time out or he actually had to go! I feel like talking to these people myself.