She sleeps less. She “times out” more.
Yes, time out is a staple of our discipline diet in my household. Early on in my pregnancy, my husband and I debated the best methods for behavior modification. Neither one of us was crazy about spanking. But the idea that you discipline with love? That’s the stuff of temper tantrums – for Mom.
The way I see it, I love her so much that she needs to go to her room and think about what she’s done. Or, at least, get out of my hair so I can have a few moments to breathe deep breaths and rip my hair out in little tufts (even more reason to shave the head next month for children’s cancer, huh?).
Time out isn’t an every day occurrence in our house, and it’s not the answer to every infraction. But when my daughter – who at three is now developing her sense of right and wrong – does something she has been clearly told again and again not to do, there have to be repercussions. Like hitting the dog. Drawing on the walls with crayon. Pouring a cup of juice on the floor because it isn’t the juice she “wanted.”
On the first occurrence or even the second, explaining why we don’t do something is enough. But toddlers naturally test their limits. Without someone guiding them back into line, that testing can quickly become habit.
Enter the time out. Because nothing bothers a toddler like being removed from the action. The naughty chair didn’t work in our house; because our little ham would promptly hop off and come to see what everyone else was doing. Same went for the corner. She’d turn on her heels and follow us. Now she’s sent to her room for the age-appropriate six minutes (two minutes per year of age, although it varies among time-outting parents I know from one minute up to five).
As my colleague Kate points out, I recognize that at three kids are unlikely to do much ruminating up there about why their misdeeds were wrong. What I hope she learns, instead, is that Mommy and Daddy were upset with what she did. Because with the natural affinity of toddlers to test limits also comes an inherent desire to people please. Noticing her parents don’t want her in the same room has a sobering affect that a simple “No, don’t do that” can’t achieve. That disconnect from her toys, her pets and the center of attention is the second benefit for the kids in time-out. Suddenly, bad behavior equals a loss of the things she loves. It’s simple logic, and it works.
It works for me too. Because time outs aren’t just for kids. I decided early on not to be a spanker, but I don’t know a parent out there who hasn’t been tempted at one time or another to haul off and whack their child out of pure frustration. What separates most of us from the child abusers is strength against temptation. For me, that strength comes from knowing my limits. Some friends have talked about locking themselves in another room to separate themselves from their kids for just a moment or two while they cool off. I need that separation time to cool off; it makes me a better parent.
While my daughter is in time out, I get a few moments to look at why I’m really angry. Is it because she’s crayoned on the wall for the fifth time this week and I feel like all the talking I’ve done isn’t getting through? Is it because she spilled juice on a floor I just finished mopping? Sometimes it gives me time to clean up the mess or devise a plan for her to help me – a second lesson for her in why we don’t throw pour juice on the floor or crayon on the walls. Like I said – it’s a time out for the parent as much as it is a time out for the kid.
When the kitchen timer goes off, the stressful moment has passed. We can discuss things calmly, and she bears a memory of a punishment that is more distinct than a simple “no” and less emotionally-scarring than a screaming (or worse, abusive) parent. Then we work together to fix it.
Time out works for us. It’s helping my curious toddler find her boundaries, and we’re doing it with love.
Even better – I get to keep my hair.
THE OTHER SIDE: Smackdown: No Naughty Chair For Us, Thanks