Time outs are often used as a means to ‘discipline’ a child. It is seen as a way to teach a child not to keep going with a behaviour, by secluding them. It is often used as a last resort by parents and is obviously more favourable than a smack. Mostly, time outs are used by parents as this is what their parents used with them. Without consciously making change, most parents continue to use the beliefs and disciplinary style that were modelled by their parents.
Time outs are not the only way to deal with misbehaviour. There are actually two ways to treat your child:
- Use a disciplinary action such as smacking or time outs, which eventually gets your child to comply out of ‘fear’.
- Teach your child in a loving and understanding way where they went wrong and how to behave in a better way next time, promoting your child to respect you and to try to ‘do the right thing’.
By using the second approach, you will find less resistance, more positive change for the long term and a better relationship with your child. It is not your job as a parent to ‘come down’ on your child when they are misbehaving, but rather to teach them how to behave appropriately, with love and understanding.
This is basically the same way you can treat teenagers. The more you ‘come down’ on them, they more likely they are to rebel. The more you get them to understand why you are asking them to do something or pulling them up on inappropriate behaviours, the more they will respect you and comply.
The trouble with ‘time out’:
- Children just want to be loved by their parents. Being secluded by their own parents stresses a child’s body physically and emotionally and temporarily removes that love. A child then does not feel loved unconditionally.
- There is always a reason for a child to misbehave. Time outs do not encourage parents to look at why the child was misbehaving in the first place. They simply see their child as having acted ‘naughty’.
- The child knows they have done the wrong thing by being secluded in a time out but may not understand exactly what they have done wrong, or how to change this behaviour for next time.
- If the parent has not used age-appropriate language (roughly 2-3 word phrases for 2 year olds, 3-4 word phrases for 3 year olds and ensuring 4 year olds and older actually understand all terms and concepts the parent uses), they can expect the child will possibly misbehave in the same way.
- A child does not always know to say ‘I didn’t understand what you were meaning/what do I do when this happens next time/why have I been put in my room?’.
How to avoid time outs
- Choose to look at why your child has acted the way they have, before you assume they are being ‘naughty’ and acting against you. Why is your child getting to the point of misbehaving? Are they bored? Are they excited? Are they overstimulated? Are they craving your attention? Are they having difficulty regulating their emotions?
- Use age-appropriate language. Really stop to ask yourself ‘does my child understand what I am saying?’. Do I need to show my child how to act instead.
- Aim to teach your child what to do in each scenario. For example, “no hitting…say ‘mine'”, ‘no playing here (with power point)…not safe…come play here’.
- You may need to distract on from inappropriate behaviours (such as power points), when your child is too young to understand why they must not play there.
- Identify with your child’s feelings. Instead of sending them to time out for hitting, tell them what they are feeling. For example, ‘you are frustrated…no hitting…come here for a hug’, ‘no hitting mummy…you are frustrated…you wanted books now..dinner…come’.
- Use natural consequences. If your child tips out all the blocks, ensure they help to pack up, even if it’s hand over hand. If your child bites a sibling because they are frustrated they ripped their drawing, ensure they help to give some love for the bite (hug, pat, sit with sibling, get icepack) but also ensure the sibling helps to fix the drawing. Ensuring natural consequences occur is more functional than just demanding your child apologises. ‘I’m sorry’ is easily muttered without your child learning any lesson of what their behaviour really meant.
- Expect your child to learn their lesson the first time, IF you have explained it well and have shown them the appropriate action for next time. Many children (especially young ones), will need to be shown a few times. Be patient!
- Be consistent. If your child shows the same inappropriate behaviour, such as tipping out the blocks when you have just asked them not to, show them to pack them away again. If your child is enjoying the attention of repeating inappropriate behaviours, move them onto another activity, without feeling the need for further punishment or lectures. For example, ‘no more tipping….finished…time to eat’.
- Trust your child will learn the appropriate behaviour, in time. Keep being patient, modelling the correct behaviour and explaining why you do not approve of the inappropriate behaviour.
How can a hug solve the problem?
Very often, a child is misbehaving to attract your attention, even if it is your negative attention. This perpetuates a cycle of your child misbehaving, gaining your (negative) attention and so they keep doing this to gain more of your attention. Yes, sometimes your negative attention is better than none of your attention.
So try it. Break free of the cycle and give your child a hug, as soon as your child appears to be bored or acting up to gain your attention….and see what happens.
Don’t hold your child accountable for misbehaving. They are a child. They are learning. You will need patience and understanding. Be happy to teach your child and model how to act appropriately. Life is too short. Don’t waste your and their time playing the time out game!