"Jillian, if you don't stop talking back to me, you're going to sit in the time out area until you learn to respect me!"
"You know that when children in this family won't put their toys away they have to sit in time out. Is that what you want? If not, you better start putting those toys away right now."
"Roberta, you are being naughty. Naughty girls have to sit in this naughty chair until they learn their lesson. Go to the naughty chair now. I'll tell you when it's time to get out."
"Anthony, the school policy says that children can't push other children. You're on the wall for pushing Carlos. Go sit by the wall with those other two over there. You can watch the other children playing the way they are supposed to until recess is over."
"Rita, you are supposed to be in time out. Get back in that chair and stay there quietly until your time is up. Now I have to reset the timer because you left the "time out" chair early."
The use of the words above and others like them are being spoken often in homes across the country. They are indicative of parents who are attempting to control a child's behavior by the increasingly popular discipline technique, "time out".
Parents, teacher, principals, day care providers and even the super nanny are using "time out" as a technique to teach children to behave in a desired way. Children are being placed on chairs in the middle of a classroom, a bench outside the principal's office, sent to their bedroom, and told to sit on a naughty step in an effort to correct a behavior.
Adults use "time out" with the best of intentions. They often desire a discipline technique that is an option to sarcasm, ridiculing, yelling, or shaming. They prefer not to spank or use other forms of physical punishment to control the child. So they opt for "time out".
Adults who use "time out" have the positive intention of setting limits and encouraging children to follow the rules. They know it is important to hold children accountable for their behaviors and use "time out" as a consequence of the choice the child has made.
By placing a child in "time out," adults believe that the child will think about what he or she did wrong and learn to not do it any more. They believe that the child will stop hitting in frustration after having enough opportunities to sit and think about hitting. They believe that a child will learn to pick up his toys, stop throwing sand, and start using kind words because he sat in his bedroom long enough to figure out why he was there.
One assumption made by these parents and caregivers is that "time out" does get children to do desired behaviors. Another assumption is that because it appears to work, it is effective. But what if these outcomes aren't what they appear at first glance? What if negative effects accompany the use of "time out" the way it is being practiced today? What if it is actually counter-productive to achieving the goal of raising responsible children? Perhaps it is time to call time out on time out and examine it more closely.
Consider: "Time out" as often practiced today is used for control. It is used as a threat. "If you don't stop that you will go to "time out". It is used to punish. "OK, that's it. You got to your room." When you use time out in these ways you are teaching children that those with the power have the right to control others. You are showing children that might makes right and that bigger gets to dominate the smaller.
Consider: Children being controlled by the threat of "time out" may indeed change their behavior. But when they do so, the motivation to change is external. The child has not been asked to think for himself or internalize the need for a new behavior. Nor has he been taught any new behaviors. He often learns to behave when the adult is near in fear of punishment, but does not behave when the adult is not present, because he hasn't learned to behave from the inside, out. He is behaving only from the outside, in.
Consider: When "time out" is used for punishment children often use the time to create resentment, revenge fantasies, and direct their anger and blame at the parents. They scheme about how to get even rather than contemplate alternatives to the behavior that got them there in the first place. These feelings on the part of the child serve to disconnect her from the family rather than bring her closer together.
Consider: Many parents make no mistake about the fact that they are sending their child to "time out' because they have been naughty or bad. When you send a child to a specific area because they were "naughty," and make that clear to him, you are sending a message to the child that he is bad, that he is naughty. This use of "time out" attacks the character of the child. It wounds the spirit and brands them as that way. It results in feelings of low self-esteem and creates core beliefs of "I am wrong," "I am not worthy," and "I am naughty."
Consider: "Time out" as it was originally designed was an attempt to give children time to cool-down. It was to provide a safe space and time for a child to calm herself. Creating time and space for a child to calm down so she can think is the first step towards creating an internal standard, an inner-authority that guides the child's behavior. It is a move towards control from within rather than from the outside.
Consider: A "time out" is something one takes or is given when they need a break from their surroundings. When an adult is overworked and feeling stress from their job they take a time out. It's called a vacation.
When you are so angry that you can't think, you remove yourself from the situation and come back later when you can think clearly. That's a "time out." When you come home from work exhausted and sit down on the easy chair for fifteen minutes you are giving yourself a "time out."
A "time out" is what one needs when you are sad and want to be alone. It is what one needs when you are hurt and don't know what to say. A "time out" is what one needs when you are confused and don't know what to do. A "time out" is what one needs when you are frustrated and don't get what you want. A "time out" is a rest area where one goes to collect themselves, to reenergize themselves and to get themselves ready to address the problem at hand.
Consider: Children also need time to calm their minds and relax their bodies when they are frustrated. They need a break from the world around them when they are yelling or angry. Children need an opportunity to get themselves ready to learn a new skill or face a problem. Children need time to get back into a solution-seeking and problem-solving mode.
Consider: A "time out" is not to be used as the punishment piece of a discipline technique. It is the time a child needs to get into the right frame of mind so he or she can learn how to manage anger, curb aggression, or use a different set of words to express disappointment.
Consider: A child will only learn to manage his behavior when his is in the frame of mind that allows him to do so. Managing behavior, comparing possible outcomes, understanding consequences, choosing among options, and creating choices takes place in the area of the brain called the frontal lobe. When your daughter is throwing a tantrum she is not in her frontal lobe. Nor is your son using his frontal lobe when he's yelling, "I hate you."
When your child demonstrates physical behaviors such as hitting, kicking, biting, throwing objects, stomping feet, and swinging arms, he or she is in tantrum mode. Such behaviors are not generated in the cortex where the frontal lobe is located. Yelling, screaming, crying, and other emotional behaviors are generated in the limbic brain, which assists in managing emotional content and is not typically a problem solving area.
It is important for parents, educators, and day care providers to recognize these behaviors and understand that children are not in an appropriate mind set from which to engage in learning a new skill, solving a problem, or understanding the cause and effect relationship to the choices they have made.
Consider: To discipline a child in the middle of a tantrum or during an emotional outburst serves no useful purpose. The role of the adult at this time is it to help the child pass through the tantrum or emotional phase and move into a behavior management and problem solving mode.
The appropriate use of a ""time out is to provide the time and the area that assists a child in moving up into his frontal lobe and thus into a mode of thinking and being conducive to learning how to manage behavior. The "time out" is not the learning phase. It is not when the teaching occurs. "Time out" is the getting ready phase, the recollecting one's thoughts and feelings phase. A "time out" is provided for a child, giving them several minutes of solitude in a calming place, allowing the brain to slowly shift into higher cortical thinking and frontal lobe activation. When the child has made this transition then, and only then, the process of holding him accountable and teaching him how to do it different next time is appropriate.
Consider: As practiced across the country today, the standard amount of time to be in "time out" is said to correlate to the age of the child. For a seven year old, the rule suggests the child should sit in time out for seven minutes. We disagree.
Some individuals move into the behavior management and problem solving mode of the brain faster than others do. For some children is could require only seconds, while for others it may take 30 minutes. Give your child whatever time he or she needs to get ready. That is the most effective use of "time out".
Consider: Most parents allow children to return to the family or activity of their choice after they have stayed there a specific amount of time. "Time out" used in this way becomes synonymous with "doing time." Once you serve your sentence you are free to go about your business.
Consider: If "time out" is indeed used as a gift of time and space, it is the time after "time out" that becomes the most important. This is when you follow-up by teaching a needed lesson, debriefing the previous scenario, and creating plans for next time. Use the time after "time out" to help your children learn to manage their behavior through the guidance and instruction you give them at that time. This will help them develop a better understanding of the consequences of their behavior. They will be more receptive to suggestions on how to correct their behavior. They will feel more empowered and more confident in being able to manage their behavior in the future. They will come to see themselves as capable, responsible people.
If you want your child to see himself as a responsible and successful person, to learn to get along with the group (family), to build positive relationships with others, and to increase feelings of connectedness with you, stop using "time out" as a punishment. Use it as a positive interruption of an undesirable behavior so the child can calm herself so she can be receptive to the guidance, instruction, and lessons in accountability that follow.
Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose, The Only Three Discipline Strategies You Will Ever Need and Teaching the Attraction Principle to Children, (available from Personal Power Press at toll free 877-360-1477, amazon.com, and bookstores everywhere). They also publish a FREE email newsletter for parents and another for teacher. Subscribe to both visit www.thomashaller.com.
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