You (the parent/caregiver) benefit from sending a child to time out. You’re the only one who does. Let’s face it, it gives you a reprieve from whatever ‘bad’ behavior they were engaging in… a chance to clean up the huge mess made with the toilet paper and shaving cream. But don’t think it’s actually teaching them right from wrong, good from bad… it teaches them that when you are displeased, they must go sit in a chair or in their room for an indeterminate amount of time. It teaches them that when they are upset, or unable to control their emotions, they must go away and be by themselves, secluded from everyone else. Those kinds of lessons are not beneficial. They’re detrimental. These lessons don’t allow for learning how to handle conflict. They don’t allow for modeling and imitating how to handle anger and stress. This isn’t what we want, as parents. We try so hard to give our kids the tools they need to be successful, intelligent, compassionate humans. Forcing someone to be alone when they are having a difficult time sends the wrong message. I only want you around me when you act how I want you to act.
Does this mean taking a time out is always a bad thing? Not at all. You need a break or you’re going to start screaming, too? Then say that. “I’m feeling really stressed… I need to be alone for a minute to calm down.”
Does your child benefit from having a ‘cool-down’ when things get too stimulating or out of control? Then call it that. “Let’s go cool down in your room. I can leave you alone for a couple minutes if you’d like some space?”
Are there times when time out is useful and effective? Absolutely. The phrase “time out” is actually short for “time out from reinforcement” and does not involve sending a child to their room or to sit in a designated chair. It does involve removing whatever is reinforcing the behavior (or removing your child from the thing that is reinforcing). For example, removing your child from the bath tub after you’ve told him to not splash the water onto the floor, and he continues to do so.
Here’s a good link on what time out is and how it is appropriately used: I Love ABA! The Mystery of Time Out
Here’s the next question: Are you using those time out chairs with the little poems? You know, these ones:
What kind of messages are being sent when you use a chair like this as a method of discipline? They look cute and fun…like a toy. What kind of message is being sent with those poems? Is sending a child to sit in this colorful work of art the best way to handle the behaviors listed? Not to mention… those poems are pretty gender stereotypical. Boys get in trouble for fighting, kicking and shouting, while girls get in trouble for whining and being sassy? Really? Whining is annoying, yes, but it’s normal and developmentally appropriate AND there are better ways to help stop it that do not involve sending your little girl away simply because she’s communicating in the way that has gotten her results in the past. (Boys whine, too, by the way. Take a look at this post: 3 Ways to Help Stop the Whining.)
Then there’s that word sassy. Did you know that sassy means lively, bold, and full of spirit? Why would I punish my daughter for that? I want her to speak her mind, and to know that she can without being made to feel ashamed. But there are certainly other definitions of sassy. It can also refer to being sexy, saucy, and flirty. This is often what folks mean when using the word sassy… so why are we using it in reference to our young daughters? I understand that the person who originally penned this poem was probably thinking more along the lines of ‘talking back,’ but again, there are better ways to handle rude behavior. Ways that do not involve beating your daughter or son down so that they are ashamed or afraid to speak their minds.
Such as talking with them like they are fellow humans, offering explanations, setting firm boundaries and following through, and making sure the environment your child is in is one that allows him the most possible independence (not one in which you are constantly finding yourself telling him to stop doing something).
I wrote this post awhile back on time-out, and offered some links on what to do instead: Are those cute time-out chairs worth it?
Here’s another great post about Positive Time Outs – Calming Down Without Negativity by the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog.