Time out has become a very popular punishment lately. It’s generally considered the humane or even “gentle” approach when compared to the use of corporal punishment. Regardless, I believe that in the long term, time out is very ineffective. Although most parents are using it in an attempt to get their child to step back from a situation, that’s not what time out really does.
In time out a child is sent away for a set amount of time and told to to think about what they’ve done. I sincerely doubt that kids truly think about what they’ve done and feel remorse when they’re sent to time out. I don’t think they quite have the emotional skills for that. In fact most kids sit in time out and cry – because of separation and humiliation- or ask when they can get up. That’s a clear sign they’re just upset at being punished, not learning a genuine lesson.
You know what I immediately think of when I see a child in time out? I think of the dunce cap that schools used years ago. In looking up a picture to show, I ran across a Wikipedia page explaining the dunce cap. Within the first few paragraphs the dunce cap was described as an outdated punishment by means of public humiliation used in schools. The page then went on to explain that this method is no longer in schools because it has been shown to be psychologically damaging to children. Time out is the same thing as the dunce cap method, minus the hat! So why is it being touted as a an effective method, or even a gentler approach?
Time out operates under the principles of rejection and shame, neither of which is healthy.
Why is a child afraid of time out. Because no matter how bad their behavior, they don’t want to be separated from their parent. As a parent you are meant to be a child’s place of refuge. A parent telling a child to leave their presence due to behavior is rejection. While the child’s behavior might seem to improve, it’s only because they are seeking our their parents presence.
If a child is acting out, it’s because they are having a problem that they don’t know how to properly deal with. Who wants to be rejected and then isolated when they’re dealing with a problem? Wouldn’t it be better to be offered a solution and helped? When time out is used in a public place, like a classroom, it is operating not only under rejection and isolation, but under shame because the child is being rejected in front of their peers.
Shame is a toxic emotion. Caretakers who use time out are actually trying to induce guilt, which is very different than shame. Guilt is to realize that your action was wrong and to have a desire to make amends. Shame is to connect your wrong action with who you are. Instead of seeking to make amends, a shamed person believes that they cannot be separated from their actions, and they become defensive and unreceptive to correction. Children cannot feel guilt if they are hurt due to rejection, and defending themselves due to shame.
Let’s say you did something wrong, and you’re publicly berated and humiliated, isn’t it natural to forget what you did wrong and instead focus on defending yourself? The bible says speak the truth in love. I believe that children are much more receptive when spoken to with love and respect, the same as any other person. It isn’t possible to speak the truth in love if you are disconnecting yourself from your child, which is what time out does.
Discipline is managing your child’s behavior, so that they know what well managed behavior feels like, and their brain, as it matures, will begin to implement it on it’s own. Well managed behavior does not feel like shame or pain. – Joy Jordan
In contrast to a time out, a time in is effective in the long term because it operates under the principles of connection and trust. Before I explain why time in is a healthier alternative, let me explain what a time in is for those who don’t know.
In time in, the parent stays with the child. If the child is crying hysterically, the parent comforts the child until they are calm. Once they are calm, the parent explains the situation, what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how to fix it. Children need their parents to tell them how to react in a situation, and why. I recently wrote a post, pressing the reset button, about calming children through connection. Time in is like a mini reset button.
Children are not mature enough to say “Hey, mom, dad, I’m really frustrated in this particular situation, and I’m not sure how I should react” Their communication is often through crying, whining, hitting, all signs of frustration and confusion. Their bad behavior is a cry for help.
Isaiah 65:24 says “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” When we call upon God, he is there as our father. He listens to us, and helps us solve our problems. As Laila’s mother I will be there every time she calls me, even if her call is masked beneath a temper tantrum. I will listen to her as she speaks, even if her speaking comes in the form of crying or screaming.
In our house there will never be a time out, because I want Laila to know that no matter what her behavior is like, she deserves my help and my presence because she is my child. I want to teach her that I am her safe place, that there is nothing she can do to push me away, just like there is nothing we can do to push God, our father, away.
Instead of punishing Laila with the absence of my presence, I would rather solve her problem through my presence.
That’s really what time in is all about, realizing that children can’t solve problems on their own. As parents it’s our responsibility to solve problems with them instead of expecting them to solve them alone.