March 19, 2018

Is it time for a time out for time out?

My goal in writing this is not to say one more thing that we can’t do. Rather, it’s to show that we often take a good tool and generalize it in ways that may not be it’s best use. In taking the time to learn about child development, we can offer discipline to our children that will benefit them at their specific age.

Why do we adults take time outs? We do this to regain our composure. We sometimes need to take a break so that we don’t say or do anything we’ll regret later. When we use this as a punishment, it’s not teaching a child how to take time out on their own for this purpose.  As we teach them to take a time out to calm, and we help them learn how to do this, they will be better able as adults to know when they really need to take a time out.

Time out has become a main form of discipline. As a society who has embraced the value of putting an end to corporal punishment, we see time out as a better option than spanking. That being said, I realize not all feel this way about spanking. But the powers that be, the American Academy of Pediatrics, has long stated that spanking is not effective in changing a child’s behavior and recommends other forms of discipline, such as time outs. And recently a study by Tulane University presented evidence that children who were spanked were more likely to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, get frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against others. So, most American’s are choosing not to spank.

Instead we have opted to send our children to their rooms to “think about their behavior”, or simply as punishment for negative behavior. We demand that they be calm before they can again interact with the family. There can be benefit to this.  As our kids get older and learn how to take time to calm when needed, this can be a great tool for them.  However, if you have a child under 5, this often turns into a huge power struggle. Why?  Because developmentally a time out in the bedroom, or away from parent, is very difficult for a child of that young age.

Their ability to regulate their emotions is learned mostly during their first years of life. From ages 1-3 a child’s brain will grow to 90% of it’s adult size! In the first year a child’s brain grows from 25% to 75%! During this year the main thing we do is to meet their needs. During the second year, the main goal still includes meeting needs, and setting limits for wants. When the child cries because of a want, our job is to maintain the limit, while helping them to calm. We can do this with empathy and with the same type of calming we did when they were an infant….holding, rocking, soothing, etc.  This is often called a time-in instead of a time-out.  Research shows that children before the age of 3-5 are not able to regulate their emotions on their own. So they often act out simply because they do not know how to regulate their emotions and don’t yet have tools to express themselves. It is our job to teach them (and their bodies) how to do this, not send them away to do it alone, when they don’t know how.

Once again, this is not one more thing that we cannot do.  But it’s important to be aware that there may be many different ways to handle each situation rather than taking one idea and applying it to everything.


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