My Kids Grow and So Do I


Sunday, June 16, 2013

The time-out technique for effective discipline

Kids want to behave, they really do. They absolutely want to please their parents and caregivers. So how come they don’t always act nicely? It’s because we, their parents and caregivers, have not done a good job at communicating to them the boundaries of behavior that is acceptable. Once they know those boundaries, they will want to stay within them most of the time. Of course, there will be instances when they will challenge the boundaries for various reasons. They forget, or they might, for instance, want to know if a new type of behavior is within or without the acceptable area. At other times they might want to make sure that they have explored the full range of possible acceptable behaviors; after all, it would be a waste to let some type of behavior go unused when it’s perfectly acceptable. And lastly, they may just want to make sure you’re paying attention. Whatever the reason for challenging the boundaries of behavior, children need their parents and caregivers to be alert and explicit.

The reality TV show Supernanny has done a great job in explaining how effective a time-out on the ‘naughty step’ or ‘naughty chair’ can be when it comes to communicating to your children where the boundaries of behavior lie. Especially for young kids the time-out technique works beautifully; I can heartily recommend it. 

Why is it so effective? The answer is three-fold: the technique is effective because it works on three levels of our being: the physical, the mental and the  spiritual level. On the physical level the time-out on the naughty chair or step literally restricts the out-of-bounds behavior the child was displaying, be it shouting, hitting or bullying. It effectively stops their unacceptable behavior instantly.

          On the mental level the time-out on the naughty chair allows the child time to reflect on what has just occurred. They will think back on what they did and make the connection with the parent’s response. Kids truly want to please us, their parents and caregivers. We shouldn’t hesitate in letting them know how they can please us, and support their exploration of the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Kids need practice in recognizing that area and our firm guidance will help them tremendously by shortening the time needed to adjust, and by limiting unnecessary irritation on both sides. During the time-out the child will make the connection between the unacceptable behavior and the time spent in time-out, just as the Supernanny youtube clip shows.

What happens on the spiritual level when a child is disciplined through the time-out method cannot be overestimated. The key words here are: respect and harmony. The out-of-bounds behavior is deemed unacceptable primarily because it has violated respect one way or the other. A gentle, respectful and immediate interruption by the adult, followed by the child’s self-reflection, paves the way for respectful exchanges among all involved. In the new situation harmony is restored and love between parent and child can again flow freely.

When my children were little the time-out technique was used consistently. Ours was a slightly different take on the trusted principle. In our family room we had a set-up with two easy chairs and a table in-between. On that table I had placed a plastic box full of picture books from the local library. Once a week we would visit the library and the kids were encouraged to choose several books each, to take home. During the week, we’d snuggle up in the chairs and I’d read stories to the kids, and encourage them to read or look at pictures on their own as well. This little corner associated with fun time together was our time-out corner as well. During a time-out my kids were allowed to take out a book and quietly read or look through it. I reckoned they knew instantly why the time-out was appointed and the reading seemed to calm them down. More often than not, they’d forget they were actually doing a time-out and after ten or fifteen minutes they’d ask me if they could get out of the time-out, and of course they could.

Even though this practice doesn’t follow the experts’ advice to the letter, it did meet our needs in a wonderful way. Being put in a time-out instantly made clear that boundaries had been crossed, and so there was no need for either one of us to become emotional about it. The child in question just took the measure as a piece of information to process and incorporate. The fresh supply of library books would often take the edge off the punishment, hastening the restoration of harmony between us.

Taking the time-away-from-things one step further, people in general can benefit tremendously from taking a time-out occasionally, not just kids. Many times in life we may be in situations that we can't fully oversee, where we focus too much on the details or on our own precious little role in it and we can't see the forest for the trees. Being able to step back and observe may prove to be an invaluable help in getting a broader perspective. Letting go of our hold on a specific issue may create space that allows new opportunities to become visible. The time-out technique, originally introduced as a disciplinary tool, may very well prove to be a life-long skill to reflect and gain perspective.

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