Thoughtful Parenting: Unnatural consequences
Using time out (and denial of privileges, to be discussed in a later article) is a fallback means of discipline many parents use. Either is preferable to spanking, which is essentially physically assaulting and violating your child’s boundaries and sense of self. These are strong words, but they are documented by research findings.
Recently, the idea of “time in” has come into favor, especially when used with children younger than 5 or 6, who cannot articulate what’s bothering them or how they feel. Doesn’t staying with your child and being affectionate with him or her after the child has misbehaved akin to rewarding bad behavior? Well, not really, as will be explained below.
Consider the consequences children experience in time out. They are isolated, in a time-out chair, corner their bedroom. Isolation evokes fear, not emotional regulation, which would be the desired outcome.
Children often become angry when they’re put in time out. It’s hard for anyone to accept responsibility and feel sorry for bad behavior when they’re furious at the person who has punished them. (Think about the last time you got a ticket for a traffic violation.)
Keeping any child in time out frequently degenerates into a power struggle between parent and child, as the parent tries to enforce time out. Plus, the parent must have the physical ability to restrain the child. Sadly, time outs often cause children to feel shame and believe they are bad people. Cooperation and problem-solving are not fostered by time out. Depending on the child, a time out could result in a rupture in the parent-child relationship.
What’s the alternative? Again, depending on your child’s developmental level, using words to reassure the child that whatever was done or acted out is not unpardonable, but simply the result of feeling tired, hungry, frustrated, sad and so forth. While pointing out to the child that the behavior is not OK, a parent can offer to sit in a special place with the child to help the child de-escalate his or her emotional or physical expression while feeling loved and nurtured. The important element in time in is maintaining the connection between parent and child.
If your child is too aggravated to accept physical contact from you, then you can verbally reassure him or her that, while the behavior was unacceptable, expressing feelings is perfectly normal and human. If your child still resists your efforts to reconnect, you can physically step back, while telling the child that you recognize he or she wants no contact, but you’re there, and the child is safe. You remain within eyes-on distance of your child until he or she is ready to reconnect.
To children, emotions can easily become overwhelming and unmanageable. When the child feels accepted, the emotional storm will pass more quickly. The important message for the child to hear is that he or she is loved and accepted, no matter what. The child ideally also learns that emotions can be regulated, the volume lowered and choices of behavior can be made.
Problem-solving occurs more readily for all of us when our emotions aren’t running our brains. One of the most important lessons we want our children to learn from discipline is that we, as parents, are on their side, will listen and help them and will always stay connected to them.
For more information about this seemingly paradoxical method of child management, look for the little book “Twelve Alternatives to Time Out,” by Ariadne Brill, and the website positiveparentingconnection.net.
For more ideas about consequences for young children, see “Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood,” by Jim Fay and Foster Cline.
Chris Young, Ph.D., is a retired licensed psychologist who specialized in children and families. She can be reached at 970-291-9259 for consultation.
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