Posted on Sunday January 15, 2012
Most parents have heard of the "time out" - a technique for achieving obedience and reducing bad behaviour in your children by separating them from the family group or problem activity for a short period of time. There are people who oppose time outs for children on the basis that "isolation" can harm their overall well-being by making them feel unloved and unwanted. Based upon my own experience I disagree with this assessment.
Like most children, mine are intelligent, curious, playful, good-natured and kind. Also, like most children, mine lack world experience due to their very young age. They don't know what can and can't hurt them; therefore it is my job as a parent to keep them safe while providing them an abundance of opportunity to be independent and explore their environment. It's a tough line to walk but for me the standard is "parent first, friend second".
So I warn them but let them climb the chair knowing that they don't have perfect balance and are going to fall off. I let them fight (just a little, before it gets out of control) so they learn how to resolve conflicts without adult intervention. I gently provide as much guidance as they are willing to accept and then I let them learn from the outcome of their own decisions.
But sometimes a firm hand is needed. That fight gets out of control, or they insist on climbing a less-than-sturdy table, or they're overtired and can't control their screaming and thrashing. At the end of the day my kids aren't yet stable, independent adults - they're just on their way there. Which mean it's time for me to step in and control the situation.
The time out is a terrific tool because it is calm and authoritative without being an outright punishment. When one of my kids loses control of himself, I walk him to the corner of the room - away from toys and out of sight of the television and any distractions - tell him what he did to be put on a time out, and have him sit for 1-2 minutes to calm down.
Since toddlers can sometimes get into tantrums of extreme flailing rage, I stick around to make sure he doesn't hurt himself. The thing to remember is that young children lack the mental capacity to handle their frustrations, and often the only way they can express their frustration is by crying, screaming, and being physically violent. I don't buy into people who say you can "talk it out" in every situation - children sometimes need to be given an opportunity to get their emotions out of their system before any reasonable conversation can take place. This is a major difference between a young child and a grown-up.
After he has been calm for those minutes we hug it out and talk about why we needed to take a time out. What is the underlying cause of this frustration or behaviour? If the conflict was with another child, we can get together and work through how to share, or play nicely, or whatever it was that caused the unwanted behaviour.
I'm finding as my oldest is approaching 4 years old, just warning him of a timeout is enough to have him stop and correct his behaviour, or at least have a conversation about why he is misbehaving. Very often it falls into one of three causes:
- Jealous over attention given to a sibling
- Being over-tired and in need of rest
- A desire to become more independent, therefore testing his boundaries
In all cases it's fine to be understanding, but as parents it is our job to maintain a safe and harmonious household. If the kids refuse to do as they're told, you need to take immediate action to correct that. It may be something as harmless as playing in the living room where you can see them today, rather than in the hallway. But tomorrow, it may be something serious, such as telling them to stay close to you in a parking lot so they don't get hit by a car. If they don't listen to you now, why would they do it in a truly dangerous situation? Answer: They won't.
So be prepared to back up what you say with discipline, and don't ask them to do anything you aren't willing to fight to get them to do because at some point your bluff will be called. That's why I try to be as laid back as possible with my kids and I try to only tell them to do things when I'm really serious about having those things done. It's hard work, but our children rely on us to be strong, consistent, and provide structure.
They're growing up really fast, and I will always be that rock, that pillar of strength for my kids. I'll pick my battles. And I'll enjoy every minute of time I get with them.