Is Time-Out Helpful Or Harmful?
Thanks to Super Nanny most of us have heard or used “time-out” as a disciplining tool for our children. Some find it too harsh or ineffective while others find it a great tool in teaching their children how to behave correctly.
However, some critics believe that instead of helping children calm down, time-outs actually have the opposite effect - causing children to become even more distressed or out of control.
Further, children can become so overwhelmed by the disruption in their relationship with their parent during time-out (and by the shame they feel for being “bold”) that their emotional upset increases and their likelihood of learning from the experience decreases.
Opponents of time-out often suggest “time-in,” which entails a parent physically comforting a child to calm him or her, no doubt a great strategy.
But as anyone who has been the parent or caregiver of a young child knows, there are times when children are so out of control - throwing objects, kicking, hitting, biting - that they cannot accept comfort and in fact, the more the parent tries to soothe the child, the more out of control they get.
At these times, parents are often pushed to their emotional limit too. When emotions (and cortisol levels) are sky-high, a break for both parent and child can be a healthier solution than an ongoing battle.
In this situation, giving the child a break can actually be a positive parenting strategy. The critical factor is the way this break is implemented. When done calmly and lovingly, it can be an important opportunity to prevent further escalation, to provide both child and parent with a chance to regain control, and to then come back together to solve the problem when both are calm.
So how as parents can we create a gentler “time out” a more effective “peace place”?
Here are some ideas:
Create a safe and peaceful “time out”
For some, a “peace place” is an alternative to “time-out”. A place that is created by parent and child. A place where the child can go when they (and you) just need a break. A place where they are not frightened or feeling ashamed. It might be a corner of their room with some books or even a tent in their room where they feel safe?
When a parent assesses that a break is needed, it is done calmly and lovingly. Even if you are holding your child out at arm’s length to avoid his kicks and swatting at you, as calmly as possible, take him to his break place and let him know that you can’t wait until he can calm himself so that you can play again. Separations aren’t inherently or automatically harmful to young children. When separations are framed and approached lovingly and supportively—not punitively—they can be caring, not callous.
Keep expectations age appropriate
Children—especially those under 3—do not yet have the ability to reflect on their own actions and behaviour. This means that the goal of taking a break is not self-reflection, but just to provide a quiet place where children can move from a state of high agitation and upset to a sense of calm. The break offers the space for both parent and child to regroup and then come back together to talk about what the child could do instead, the next time this situation arises. No learning takes place when children are in an agitated, emotionally flooded state.
Choose a time limit best suited to your child
One approach is to have the break end when the child is calm. Another option is to set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes then go back to the child and check in. At this point, they may still be upset, but if they are no longer out of control and is willing to accept being comforted, you can help her move on. Remember, you’re not giving in to whatever caused the original upset- you’re just helping your child learn to calm herself and to accept an alternative.
Laura Doyle, mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.