Here’s another one of those controversial, confusing topics that even the experts don’t agree on. Some positive parenting experts (Dr. Sears, for one) encourages the use of time-outs, starting at the age of 18 months. Dr. Sears says, and I quote:
This all seems so sensible, but remember, children may not think logically until around age six. If you can’t sell your child on time-out, invoke your parental power. Give your child the message that he is going into time-out no matter what, so he might as well do it, get it over with, and get on with the day. For the child over five, add extra time for resistance: “Five extra minutes for protesting,” announces the referee. If the child still refuses, pull out your reserves: grounding and withdrawal of privileges (such as TV for the rest of the day or week)—whatever has worked in the past. Give the child a choice: “You can either stay in your room for ten minutes or be bored the rest of the day.”
Here’s my question. If children may not think logically until around age 6,then why use it on a child under 6 years old? Plus, what are you going to do when it’s not so easy to “invoke your parental power,” on, say, a 15-year-old, and you have to keep escalating the punishment? I can see where he’s going with this…you need to show your kids who’s boss. What about attachment, Mr. Attachment Parenting? Not that attached parents can’t give time-outs and be attached, they can (I did), but you do have to make a repair because most likely it did cause a disconnect. But I digress. He goes on to make this point:
Time-out gives your older child a chance to reflect on her deed, and it also gives you a chance to cool off and plan a strategy. While your child is in time-out, judge whether the misbehavior is a smallie that’s over and done with and needs no further discipline or a biggie that needs more intensive care. If it’s a biggie (she hurt another person), after giving her a few minutes to cool off, say something like: “I want you to think about what you did. How would you feel if your friend hurt you?” Some children know intuitively the mental exercises to go through during time-out, but many do not. This is not a time for preaching or haranguing, rather matter-of-factly tell your child how you expect her to spend the time-out period. The most lasting impression is made when the child realizes the consequences of his actions on his own. That’s self-discipline.
I can understand how a time-out could give an older child a chance to cool off, but I don’t know how much reflecting they’re doing. It all depends on the child’s termperament, I would think. A more timid or intuitive child may reflect; a strong willed child may stew. On the other hand, it seems to me there would be a more productive way of instilling self-discipline than by imposing parental control, which doesn’t so much come from “self,” but hey, I’m no doctor. Source.
On the other hand, we have this post, which happens to be one of my favorites and makes some very valid points, like these:
When you separate yourself and your child, you are instantly demonstrating to them that your relationship is not important. When your child is misbehaving is when they need you the most, and your relationship with them is vital. You need to listen and empathize and bring them close to tell them that you still love them, but want to understand what they are feeling. Children will open up very quickly and explain the root cause of their actions when they feel loved, and secure with their parents.
“Demonstrating that your relationship is not important” seems a bit much, doesn’t it? I can’t really argue with the rest of this one though. It goes on to read:
For children under age 4 to 5 years old, did you know that they don’t understand consequence at all? Their brains simply aren’t yet developed enough to understand cause and effect – so any kind of discipline similar to time-outs is being completely lost of them! Their left and right brains up to the age of 4 to 5 years old are essentially operating independently. They are unable to think logically, and with compassion or empathy. They are almost primarily governed by impulse and emotions and will act selfishly when playing with others. Concepts such as sharing are foreign to them, though they may mimic or parrot this kind of behaviour back to you if driven home repeatedly.
Now that is some food for thought, isn’t it? Neuroscience! Hooray!
But wait! Doesn’t all that love and empathy reward them for the misbehavior? Can you ever really go wrong with love? What would make you think so? Have you ever messed up? What did you need? Scolding? A lecture? Would that help? Or what about some empathy and understanding? Do teach your child appropriate behavior! Please do! But do it in a way that leaves her dignity intact and your relationship positive. You’ll need that close relationship!
Aletha Solter has this to say about time-outs in her article.
Even so, while spanking is on the wane in the United States, the withholding of love and attention has persisted as an acceptable means of control.
She also says:
According to many educators and psychologists, however, time-out is not as innocent as it seems and is, moreover, an emotionally harmful way to discipline children. In fact, the National Association for the Education of Young Children includes the use of time-out in a list of harmful disciplinary measures, along with physical punishment, criticizing, blaming, and shaming.
She drives it home with:
From a child’s point of view, time-out is definitely experienced as punishment. Who wants to be isolated from the group and totally ignored? It is quite likely that children view this form of isolation as abandonment and loss of love. And while parents are often careful to provide reassurances of their love and to distinguish between the child and the unruly behavior (“I love you, but you need to go to your room for five minutes because what you did is not acceptable”), their actions speak much louder than their words.
Children under the age of seven simply do not have the capability to process words in the same way that adults do. Concrete experience and perceptions of reality impact more strongly than language. Being isolated and ignored is interpreted as “Nobody wants to be with me right now. Therefore I must be bad and unlovable,” and no loving words, however well intended, can override this feeling of rejection.
Nothing is more frightening for a child than the withdrawal of love. Along with the fear come insecurity, anxiety, confusion, anger, resentment, and low self-esteem. Time-out can also cause embarrassment and humiliation, especially when used in the presence of other children. In the child’s realm of experience, time-out is nothing short of punitive.
Three views. One states they are needed; one that they are harmful, and one ranks time-outs right up there with spanking and abandonment.
If you’ve ever used time-outs, raise your hand. *Raises hand* Okay, put them down. I used to do it by the book. If my child hit or did a “biggie” he’d go to time-out for 1 minute per each year of age. I’d explain why and then do the “hugs and kisses” afterwards. Well, I tried. Time-outs were a complete failure here. He didn’t want to sit and it was a case of getting up and putting back, getting up and putting back, tears, screaming, my blood pressure rising, and a big ole power struggle, lose-lose situation. I then, however, moved to bedroom time, which we called “rest time” where he went alone to “cool down” and was allowed to play with whatever he wanted to in his room and could come out when he was “ready to be respectful.” It worked pretty well, actually.
When I did time-outs, I certainly didn’t feel like I was abandoning, isolating, shaming, or withdrawing my love. At least, it didn’t feel that way to me. How did it feel to my child, though? I’m not sure. Perhaps like Aletha described?
I don’t know that I’m ready to jump on the “isolation and love withdrawal” bandwagon, probably because I’m guilty of using time-outs myself before, but that feels a little extreme to me. Certainly time-outs *can* be extremely harmful if overused in a negative home. It’s not always so black and white though, is it? My completely non-professional, not-very-experienced mommy opinion is that an occasional time out for a biggie in an otherwise very loving, positive environment isn’t likely to do lasting harm. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that it’s not likely to do any lasting good either. Given our wonderful neuroscience information and understanding that they don’t truly get it, especially under age 6, then it becomes more of a training technique than a teaching technique, doesn’t it? That isn’t horrible, but it’s not really optimal either, when you look at the big picture.
Let’s say Sally grabs Jenny’s doll. Jenny starts to scream. Mom immediately grabs Sally and puts her in a time-out spot for “not sharing” or “snatching” and sets the time for 3 minutes (because Sally is 3). What is Sally thinking in time-out? Mommy is mean. Mommy is mad at me. I really want that doll. Why should Jenny have the doll? I’m bad. Who knows what Sally is thinking? But she probably isn’t thinking “Boy, I wasn’t considering Jenny’s feelings at all when I took that doll. I was selfish and that was uncalled for. I must apologize to Jenny right now. I see the error of my ways.”
Now let’s say that Sally grabs Jenny’s doll but this time Mom goes over to Sally and says “You really want that doll.” (Acknowledging intent) Sally nods. Jenny was playing with that doll, and you took it. Look at Jenny’s face. She’s crying.” (Teaching emotional intelligence) “How can you help Jenny stop being sad?” (You’ve got her working on problem-solving skills) If she doesn’t come up with giving the doll back, and she probably won’t, then maybe say, “I think it would make her happy to have her doll back.” (Working on developing empathy here) If she doesn’t hand it over willingly, say “Would you like to hand it back to her, or shall I?” Either let her hand the doll back (Yay, Sally!) or gently take the doll and give it back to Jenny and apologize for Sally to model a sincere apology. Then redirect Sally to another toy.
Which scenario taught Sally the most?
Of course, there are alternatives to the traditional sit in a chair for x amount of minutes approach. There is the time-in, which is what I now use on occasion. Other variants of time-in include a cuddle corner or cool down spot where parent and child go together. Plus, let’s be honest, some kids like or need to be alone to calm down. If they prefer this, fine. The key things to take into consideration are:
1. What is the lesson you want to teach?
2. What is your child’s temperament?
3. What is your intent? A positive break from the action (like in a ballgame) or punishment?
FINAL ASSESSMENT: I’m not ready to put time-outs in the “evil” category just yet. I’m going to file them under “unnecessary.” Problem-solving, having the child be involved in righting the wrong, is always more a valuable lesson than sitting in a chair.