Using time out, isolation as forms of discipline

2015-11-25 06:22

BECOMING a parent is not something that we are trained for and we learn by trial and error or we base our discipline according to the way we were raised.

As a child I received corporal punishment at school and at home or we were told to go and sit in our room and were not allowed to watch TV (which was a major punishment for me). The way parents discipline their child(ren) can have a profound impact on the child and parents’ relationships. Discipline should take the form as a non-punitive punishment aspect.

Isolation or time-out as a punitive measure can be useful, but experts are all of the belief that it must not be used as a punitive, hurtful or spiteful reaction.

According to Dr McIntyre, author of Positive Parenting Practices, time-out should only be used to give the parent and child a time to cool off, and they must be able to re-engage positively afterwards. When done properly, time-out can defuse the situation that will lead to more constructive interaction. Experts provide the following positive techniques for effective time-outs:

. Immediate intervention. Don’t wait until the situation escalates as this will more likely send the child away upset. Instead, step in as soon as you see a situation brewing. Once the source of contention is gone, calmly tell your child he needs to take a time-out.

. A predictable place. Designate a regular “time-out” spot, such as a bean bag, rug, or chair. After his first trip to time-out, your child should know exactly where he’s going, to eliminate any fear of the unknown on top of the anger and frustration that he’s already feeling. Carry the littlest ones to the established “cool off” zone, and request that bigger kids make their own way there. Fight the urge to drag, tug or pull older children—this can act to increase their defiance, and make you even angrier.

. Beyond reason. Don’t try to reason or explain anything right away—a child in tantrum mode is incapable of understanding reason. Experts calls this state “brain-static” or “contaging”, two terms that describe the moment when your kid’s overwhelmed by emotions and unable to think straight. Allow him to simmer down on time-out, and save the discussion for later.

. Measure in minutes. As a rule of thumb, a good guideline for the length of a time-out is a minute for each year of age. Three minutes may not seem like a very long time to you, but it’s about a trillion years in toddler time.

. Exit strategy. Create a predictable plan for ending the time out. If you leave your child completely alone, tell him a specific amount of time when you’ll be back—and stay true to your word. You can add in where you’ll be, such as the next room, to help ease any separation anxiety. He should know that if he’s cooled down by the time you return, the time-out will end.

. Listen and learn. When your kid’s regained control of his emotions after a stint on the time-out chair, start a discussion about why he was disciplined. Keep your comments short, fact-based and focused—don’t just present a long list of bad behaviours. Ask your child what happened, and be patient as he tells his version of events—even if it’s not very accurate. If he feels you’re listening, it’s less likely he’ll be combative and negative. If he insists the argument wasn’t his fault, don’t jump down his throat. Instead, get more information by asking him, “Where did you get hit?” and “Why do you think your playmate was angry?”

But time-out also has its disadvantages. According to experts from The Parenting Institute, time-out stems from the behaviourist movement based on the work of psychologist B.F. Skinner. His theory of operant conditioning asserts that children will behave in certain ways if they receive rewards for doing so (”positive reinforcement”), and that undesirable behaviour can be diminished by withholding the rewards or by invoking pain (both of which are termed “punishment”).

All forms of punishment were unsuitable means of controlling children’s behavior. The withholding of love and attention has persisted as an acceptable means of control.

Beneath the surface:

Using time-out appears less injurious than hitting, spanking, or yelling, because it does not involve physical or verbal abuse. It is therefore thought to represent some degree of progress in our continual striving to make this world a better place for children.

According to many educators and psychologists, however, time-out is not as innocent as it seems and is, moreover, an emotionally harmful way to discipline children. In fact, the National Association for the Education of Young Children includes the use of time-out in a list of harmful disciplinary measures, along with physical punishment, criticizing, blaming, and shaming.

Beneath the surface, time-out is an authoritarian approach and, as such, can work only among children trained to comply with the power and authority of adults.

Children trained to conform to such measures know that the consequences of disobeying are worse than adhering to the injunctions. Children who have not been brought up in an authoritarian environment will most likely refuse to go to another room or sit in a chair.

Children under the age of seven simply do not have the capability to process words in the same way that adults do. Concrete experience and perceptions of reality impact more strongly than language.

Being isolated and ignored is interpreted as “Nobody wants to be with me right now. Therefore I must be bad and unlovable,” and no loving words, however well intended, can override this feeling of rejection. Nothing is more frightening for a child than the withdrawal of love.

Along with the fear come insecurity, anxiety, confusion, anger, resentment, and low self-esteem. Time-out can also cause embarrassment and humiliation, especially when used in the presence of other children. In the child’s realm of experience, time-out is nothing short of punitive.

Although the trouble with time-out is in large part invisible, one aspect is glaringly obvious: at some point it stops working. Proponents of the approach admit that it is effective only up until the age of about nine.

Teens who have any sense of their own self-worth will laugh at such a command. The adolescent version of time-out is the practice of “grounding” teenagers by not allowing them to go out on the weekends or in the evenings.

But this method only leads to resentment, resistance, and deceit. Indeed, any method based on power and authoritarianism must eventually be abandoned, simply because parents run out of power.

Parents of teens face an entirely new set of difficulties when their tried-and-true methods of control prove utterly ineffective. Parents who adopt non-authoritarian methods right from the start, on the other hand, are able to prevent the power struggles, as well as the discipline problems, that so often come with adolescence.

Hidden Consequences:

The use of time-out leads to a host of hidden problems. For one, when we enforce a time-out for children who are crying or raging, they get the message that we do not want to be around them when they are upset. Certain that we will not listen, they may soon stop bringing their problems to the parent.

Furthermore, such children may learn to suppress their feelings, especially if we insist on time-out in silence. Have we forgotten that crying and raging are healthy tension-release mechanisms that help relieve sadness and frustration? Have we ignored the research showing that stress hormones are excreted through tears, thereby possibly reducing the effects of stress and restoring the body’s chemical balance?

In teaching our children to suppress their tears, we may actually be increasing their susceptibility to a variety of emotional and physical imbalances. One of the most devastating things we do to children is deny them the freedom to express their anger and suffering.

It is not necessary to isolate children and withdraw our love to teach them how to “behave”.

In fact, it is entirely possible to help children learn to be cooperative and decent members of society without ever issuing punishments, rewards, or artificial consequences of any kind.

No quick and easy method will solve every conflict. Instead, we need to treat each situation as the unique challenge that it is, and try to be flexible and creative, all the while giving our children the love and respect they deserve.

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