We have all heard the good & bad press time-outs have gotten. They seem so easy so what's the real deal with them? Effective, not? What to do instead?
Summer is (almost) upon us. With that brings a whacky schedule, more time with the kids and longer days.
With all that in mind, I wanted to talk about a well-known parenting punishment: the time out. This is an easy escape for parents to put their mis-behaving child out of sight for a few moments so they can have some peace & quiet. But aside from giving parents some quiet, they don’t really do much in terms of teaching your child the right way to act..or anything.
Imagine having an argument with your partner and instead of holding space for your intense feelings, they scold you and put you in a corner or a room. You want your feelings to be heard, not shut-away. This is similar to how time-outs (when done incorrectly) make our child feel.
Good news: there are plenty of positive alternatives. Isn’t that what we strive for after all?
The first step in looking for effective and healthy alternatives is to zero in on why your child is mis-behaving utilizing the functions of behavior:why is your child acting out? Are they wanting..attention, a physical item, sensory need to be met or escape from something/someone?
Once that is established, we are able to look at the various strategies that address that function. One of the overarching themes however, is to remain with your child & wait it out, when calm, teach the appropriate replacement and understand ways to prep your child before the misbehavior.
Amy is crying, screaming and flops to the floor when she has to get groceries with her mom. In the past, Amy’s mom puts her into time-out until she can “cool off”. This can last up to 15 minutes and then when mom goes to get Amy, she reluctantly gets into the car.
Amy is a smart girl and has learned that by throwing a tantrum when it’s time to go, she can delay going to the store.
Once her mom understands that Amy is trying to escape going to the store, she understands that time-out is not effective. She needs to come up with a new plan.
When we look at scenarios such as this and from this new angle, it brings in new clarity!
Amy’s mom realizes Amy could use a reminder of first store- then playground (or other reinforcing place), a 5 minute transition countdown and/or more choices during the transition phase (picking shoes to wear, 3 or 5 more minutes until they leave, etc.) and maybe even making the store more reinforcing with allowing Amy to be independent in making choices on cereal, holding the list, etc.
Notice: none of these things are punitive! Amy and her mom will have a more secure and positive relationship while being able to avoid power struggles.
There are so many ways to look at our children’s misbehavior and time outs just don’t cut it.
***Caveat here: time outs can work for when your child needs a sensory break. This isn't punitive, but can serve as a 'calm down' strategy to teach. Taking a break from you, sibling, friend, etc. is healthy and honestly that's the best way to use a "time out".
There are much better and effective strategies that aren’t punishments.
Keep at it, it all takes practice. Give yourself grace and kindness as you work towards that peaceful home. One moment at a time.
Love & Aloha,