(I had a lovely mother email me about time-in versus time-out and she bore the brunt of listening to some off-the-top-of-my-head musings, so I just wanted to thank her for inspiring this post…Hopefully this post is my coherent than my initial ramblings…)
Time-in is still getting a lot of press around parenting circles in the United States this summer. To me, the traditional version of “time-out” complete with naughty chair and one minute for every year of the child’s age is the equivalent of emotional spanking. You can read what I have written about time-out here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/12/more-about-time-in-for-tinies/ and here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/08/23/discipline-without-distress-chapter-four/ and here: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/11/20/why-should-i-consider-time-in-instead/
I also have just a common-sense kind of beef with time-out: if your child is that calm that they can go and sit in a chair to “think”, then they probably could have been addressed with other methods of positive discipline to guide them. I am all for helping to guide children. Try some different ideas than time-out here in this post: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/06/23/gentle-parenting-and-boundaries/
The opposite end of this spectrum is that when children are not calm and they are falling apart, this is not a teachable moment. If you need a time-out as a parent, I am all for that. However, for the child end of this equation, if your child is so upset and they are melting, how is sending them with their overwhelming feelings to sit in a chair going to help them make the most of this opportunity to learn? Please look at that “More About Time-In For Tinies” post listed above for some tips on handling meltdowns!
I also find that Americans and the Brits are really the only groups where time-out seems to come up at all. So I think there is a strong cultural component that is influencing the use of time-in in parenting in this country.
That being said, some people are saying some things about time-out that I wanted to bring out. In the book “Attached At The Heart”, Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of Attachment Parenting International, argue that “time –out” should be re-defined: “We would like to take back this term, remembering its original intention: stopping the activity, taking a break, and coming back with renewed perspective. Keeping this in mind helps parents work on their relationship with their child, rather than focusing on the child’s behavior, and make efforts that strengthen the parent-child connection.”
Some people have argued that time-in is not much of a deterrent toward changing behavior. What time-in gives a child is the chance to connect. Time-in is not a punitive strategy; it is a strategy toward making a teachable moment happen and calming everyone down. Lawrence Cohen, PhD and author of “Playful Parenting”, has a whole section in this book entitled, “ Choose A “Meeting On the Couch” Over a “Time-Out” (page 234). I would encourage everyone to read this book, and this section in particular as he talks about time-outs were supposed to be a humane alternative to hitting children and have now ended up as the ultimate tool of positive discipline but that time-outs “enforce isolation on children who are probably already feeling isolated and disconnected.” He goes on to talk about how one COULD use time-out in a better way: 1. By inserting yourself into a child’s play when things are ramping up and play with the child(ren) (to me, this is like the way I say “Hold The Space” This may work well for sibling fighting! You could say “Time-out! I am going to play with you all now too!” 2. Providing a time-out for YOURSELF (which I am all for!) or 3. Giving children a cozy place they can go to and calm down in when they choose to go there, for however long they choose to stay there (I find this can work for children coming up on 9, but that many small children just do not understand the concept of being by themselves to calm down; they need your help!)
He also talks about how punishment gets a child’s attention, but how our goal should be to get a child’s attention in order to connect with that child, not to scare them, not to show them “who is boss”. To me, every single thing you do and say and construct within the rhythm and environment of your home should be modeling how a calm and compassionate adult functions and lives; not punishment! My nine-year-old said to me tonight, “Mommy, how did grown-ups get to be so smart about everything?” She is surrounded by smart, confident, wonderful and caring adults in our neighborhood, our church, through our friends. These are authentic, real people, not people who pretend to like children and grit their teeth and smile. She is impressed with these people, and so am I! She doesn’t need punishment to get attention or to figure out that adults know things; she sees this modeled each and every day! Keep your eye on your ultimate vision for your children as laid out in your Family Mission Statement and the gentle tools that are appropriate for your child’s age in order to guide them! If you need help understanding your child’s development stage by age, please do see the posts on the one-year-old, the two-year-old, the three-year-old, etc, all the way through age nine on this blog, and go back to those posts on the Family Mission Statement if you need help there.
I like this quote from Lawrence Cohen’s book (please do see his website here: http://playfulparenting.com/index.html – there is now an AUDIO version of his book out, for that I am excited! I have the book, but I could envision listening to the audio version in my car, etc.)… He writes, “We are often reluctant to give out love to people who have been bad, even when it’s what they need. I have always liked the poem by Edwin Markham, which A.S. Neill quotes in the beginning of his book Freedom—Not Licensel:
He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!”
Still not convinced? I am all for boundaries! You can still be gentle and have boundaries. You can still love your child and keep boundaries. In fact, I think if you truly love your child, there MUST be boundaries. But I am also all for understanding a child’s developmental stage and working with that in a positive way. As Barbara Coloroso, author of “Kids Are Worth It! Giving the Gift of Inner Discipline” says regarding discipline: Leave your child’s dignity intact.
Help your children by guiding them with LOVE.