I realize that parents are frustrated with a lack of options with regards to disciplining their children. First we’re told no spanking, then no naughty corners, what next? What I’m hoping to do here is to help you to see that us parent-educators are not trying to limit your options but rather to give you alternatives that will actually work. My plan is to explain to you why time-outs don’t work, and what exactly you can do instead.
This is not a short-term solution. Yes, spanking and time-outs can work in the short term to quiet a screaming child or stop some misbehaviour in its tracks. But they don’t work in the long run and end up causing you way more problems further down the line when your children are not small enough to pick up and remove from the scene if necessary!
Time-outs don’t work because they don’t take into account the real reasons behind cooperation. Children cooperate because they care. They have amazing adults in their lives and they want to be like them and get their approval and most of all make sure that they retain their love.
Time-outs don’t just reject the behavior; they also reject the child. This serves to break down the very relationships that would have fostered cooperation in the long run. When a child is in a time-out, I absolutely guarantee you that they are not thinking about the wrongness of their behavior, what they can do to make amends, or how they can improve in the future. What they are thinking about is either how much they hate you and how they can get revenge, or how much they hate themselves and what a terrible, unworthy human being they are.
I don’t think any of us want children who hate themselves or us. This is not the route to long-term cooperation.
Misbehaviour is always a form of communication. And most often this communication is around themes such as not feeling loved, heard or understood. Even our most hardened criminals are people who have or do feel blamed, shamed, abused, neglected, unloved and lacking in confidence.
People who behave well are those who feel confident, secure, loved, at ease, and who know how to meet heir needs in positive ways. That is what we’re trying to nurture in our kids.
What we need to start doing instead of time-outs, are time-ins.
Time-ins are a special time of connecting with our children that happen when they are upset and acting out, but also happen in the in between times. We can have a special chair or space in our homes where we go to cuddle, connect, chat, and breathe together. The idea is to connect deeply and nurture your child. It is to make sure that your child feels safe and heard and knows that they are loved regardless of their behaviour in the moment.
In time-ins, you will sit with your child, holding them close (if they’re open to that) and just being calm and at ease yourself. If your child is having a tantrum, you need to be the calm in the storm… not part of the storm. So breathe. You don’t need to force your child to focus on their breathing – just do it yourself. Make sure you are calm and centred and ok. And then allow whatever emotion your child is having to come and then to pass. Be patient. You are not trying to calm the child down. You are simply allowing the storm of emotion to have its time and then go. This quiet presence communicates to your child that you are not afraid of them or their emotions, that you are calm and present even when things get rough, that all emotions are acceptable, that your child is loved no matter what.
Then, eventually, when your child has calmed down again, you can chat about what happened and how he/she felt and you can brainstorm what you can do in future if behaviour needs to be limited. You can also make your child aware of anything he/she can do to make amends if someone was hurt or something was broken. Children who understand what to do to fix a situation don’t need to carry around the guilt of wrongdoing.
During this time-in, you can also reflect on what might have brought your child to this point and if there is anything you can do to prevent this in future. Can you pre-empt problems like hunger, boredom, stress or tiredness that may have contributed to the meltdown? Can you be more present with them so that you can contain any physical acting out before it begins?
The focus, always, is on how to build your relationship. Children’s behaviour is never a personal attack on you, or an attempt to make your life more difficult. They are just communicating in the best way that they know how with their limited knowledge of the world, language, societal expectations, and an undeveloped pre-frontal cortex.
What “bad” behavior needs is more love not less. What tantrums need is more calm, not less. What aggression needs is more closeness, not less. What cheekiness needs is more adult modeling of great communication, not less.
When we respond to our children with love, empathy, patience, care and understanding, we are teaching them how to behave in the world. We are teaching them their own worth and how to value worth in other human beings (no matter their size or status). When we have time-ins instead of time-outs we show children that even though we all have strong emotions and behaviours there is enough love and forgiveness in the world to make things right again.