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Why Not Time-Outs?
by Crystal LuttonPunitive parenting is adversarial. It pits parents against children in what many punitive experts openly refer to as a war. Even Dr. Phil talks about "picking your battles" and warns parents that when you pick them you had better make sure that you "win" them. But as Christians we are told that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of this present darkness. We are told that Satan is "The Adversary", not our children. In fact, our children are in the position of being our brothers and sisters in Christ. The "rod", the "Shebet", is properly used when it's used to beat off the adversary--the wolf attacking the sheep and the devil attacking our children. It's not for hitting sheep or children.
But why not time outs?
It's actually a good question when the AAP has advocated for Time Outs as a preferred alternative to corporal punishment. In truth, if the choice is between a spanking and a time out, I'd suggest the time out. But that's not the only choice! And both are rooted in a punitive mindset. A punishment is something that is added on to teaching to cause the child to feel bad with the underlying belief that only by feeling bad can they learn. But, in fact, they learn lots of things without feeling bad. They learn to walk and talk and spell their own name without requiring punishment, so the argument that they can't learn if they don't feel bad is completely unfounded. In fact, a basic belief in GBD and PD is that people who feel good act good while people who feel bad act bad. So when a child is acting bad it is illogical to think that making them feel worse will somehow get them to act better.
Of course I'm speaking of classic time outs here. Or, thanks to Supernanny, what is sometimes referred to as a naughty place. The way this works is that a child is separated from the family and ignored for a time that is equal to 1 minute per age of the child. The child is told that they are bad/naughty/misbehaving/etc and the parent will get them when the time is up. They are instructed to "think about" what they have done wrong. Supernanny insists on an apology at the end .
There are several punitive aspects to this.
While Supernanny allows for young children to be viewable by the family, traditional time outs, and her Naughty Room for older children, require that the child be isolated away from the family during the time out. This gives the clear message to a child that acceptance in the family is conditional upon their behavior. If it is not acceptable they are rejected; if it is acceptable, they are accepted. For many children this translates into a message of conditional love. Also, while introverted children may respond okay to forced isolation, for many extroverted children this is traumatic.
The one-minute-per year is an arbitrary time. There is no guarantee that a child will be calmed down in that time, and other children will calm down long before that time is over.
When an apology is required to leave the time out or naughty place this is a forced apology and not a true indicator of a child's remorse. They are taught that an apology is a negotiating tool and not taught empathy or remorse.
In the place of classic time outs there are many GBD tools that provide actual teaching and do not have the punitive aspects. GBD is an entire paradigm shift. Children are not viewed as "naughty". Parents and children aren't in battles that must be won. Since people who feel good act good, one goal of GBD is to help people feel good. Now, happy isn't the only acceptable emotion, and there's lots of opportunity to use tools like reflecting feelings. The way that people learn how to feel good is to be equipped with tools that they can use to exercise self control in difficult situations. Taking a break, or what is sometimes referred to as a "Positive time out" is one way to do that. As a means for providing this, I recommend a Comfort Corner.
A Comfort Corner is a space in the common area of a home that is set up to be a retreat for a child (or an adult). It's a place they can go to step out of a situation, take a break, regroup. There are things there that provide them with comfort--stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, music, books, whatever will bless your child. Let them help design it if you want. It can be as simple as a chair with a blanket, or as complex as a room under the stairs full of options. some will argue that this is rewarding poor behavior, but if you aren't actively high fiving and saying "awesome" about their poor behavior then you aren't rewarding or encouraging it. I've never thanked my child for yelling or said that if they did I'd give them ice cream. One illustration I like to use, to make it relevant for adults, is if I come over and you've been having a bad day and not behaving well (maybe grousing or yelling at the kids, not doing your responsibilities around the house, etc) which would you prefer me to do:
1) "I'm disgusted at the way you've been behaving today. Your children deserve better than this. What kind of a mother do you think you are? You need to go into your room for 30 minutes (1 minute per year ) and really think about how bad you are. I will come and get you in 1/2 hour and then I will be nice to you."
2) "Wow, you're having a bad day. How about I watch the kids for a bit and you go get a cup of coffee and take a break Come back when you're feeling better and if you want to talk about what's going on we can do it then."
When a child is sent to the Comfort Corner the only rule is that you don't talk about why they were sent when they are there, and they may come out when they are ready to rejoin the family and be cooperative.
For older children there may be a need for a tool called "you hit, you sit". When children get aggressive and violent it's appropriate to stop their bodies and give them a chance to get their brain back in control. If you have a Comfort Corner they can be sent there, or even just sitting on the couch until they are ready to be calm in their play and make amends.
I do teach children how to apologize, including the words, "I'm sorry", but more importantly the words, "Will you forgive me?" And I teach all of my children how to forgive--because forgiveness is about casting off the burden of unforgiveness and going on with your life at peace with others. When you wrong someone you owe them a debt. Making amends is about taking responsibility and doing what you can to pay that debt. We can never undo our actions, but making an effort to repay the debt we owe someone teaches personal responsibility for our actions, and is much more important than the ability to say empty "I'm sorry"s. Saying "I'm sorry" might be part of making amends. There may also be a need to offer a gentle touch to make amends for a violent one, to return a toy and offer an additional one where a toy was taken, to do a kind act where unkindness was done. I have the offending child ask the offended child what kind thing they can do to help them feel better.
Mostly, GBD is about working to proactively prevent the situations that would result in time outs. By knowing our children well enough to structure situations to set them up for success. Using the 5 Steps makes instructions non-optional and has built in "help" if the child is not able to accomplish something themselves. Ultimately, rather than an adversarial relationship, GBD equips parents to be the coaches on the family team. There may be a time during a sporting event where someone is pulled off the field to take a Positive Time Out, or have a break, regain their cool and get ready to go back on the field. Something is very broken on the team when someone is thrown from the game in a negative time out. When you view your family as a team it's much easier to see that when one person fails, we all fail, but when one person succeeds, we all succeed. Success for all is the goal.
Copyright 1997-2005 by Gentle Christian Mothers
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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
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