Time Out: Alternative to What?

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I wrote a couple of weeks ago about time outs, and my observation that, not only do they often fail to achieve what we want for our kids, but there are several unintended side effects as well. I suggested that time outs were nevertheless ingrained in our culture and would continue to be a go-to form of discipline unless we had alternatives close to hand.

In this week’s post, I wanted to touch on some of those alternatives. First, let’s acknowledge some of the ways in which time outs do work. Then we can discuss a way to accomplish those things in a way that is both more nurturing and more effective (the two tend to go together).

  • Time outs can be effective because of fear.

By withholding our affection and attention, we are taking away what is most important to a child’s sense of safety, security and well-being. Our kids don’t want to experience that, so they will attempt to change their behavior, at least for the moment.

Why not flip the equation, and give a child our time and affection, rather than holding it at arm’s length? Parents are good and determining when a child is escalating, or heading to an out of control place. It is still possible to step in, not with a warning, but a hug, or a few minutes on the floor playing with toys or reading books. By fulfilling the child’s unspoken need before it becomes “behavior,” we could prevent the “behavior” from happening. Even better would be to recharge those love batteries in a calm, happy moment.

  • Time outs can be effective because of safety.

It is absolutely true that sometimes a child is being unsafe to themselves and to others and needs to be moved to a safe place. And that is exactly how it should be approached: “I see that you are having trouble controlling your body. I’m going to help you move away.” When a child is feeling out of control, this is exactly what they need, and want, but are singularly unable to express.

What if the child, having been moved to a safe place, continues to escalate? The short answer is, “so what.” Tantrums happen. But if they know that a caring adult is with them and available when they’re ready, the tantrum is likely to be far less severe. It probably won’t last long, either.

  • Finally, time outs can be effective because they provide a time out.

Sometimes a break, even for a couple of crucial minutes, is a necessity. The trick is, it’s for us, not for the child. If we as parents find that we are overwhelmed and unable to deal with the behavior in question, it could just be that we need a minute. Giving ourselves a time out, whether it means a moment on the porch or just that rare and precious chance to use the bathroom alone, can make all the difference.

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