When I first heard about the institution of time out, as a very young mother, the concept confused me.
"You mean," I asked whoever it was who had told me about it, "that my three-year-old child is supposed to sit in one place -- and not get up -- for over ten seconds?"
Like many small children, my son was not inherently capable of sitting still, what with so much to climb and touch and jump on in this world of ours.
I am not a fan of many of the more conventional models of kinder-government. Instead, I was searching for a discipline method that best suited my individual child, a very bright and philosophical person for someone who was less than three feet tall. He was also, perhaps because of his "giftedness" rather than in spite of it, in DIRE need of some real discipline. He had to know he didn't run the house, even if he was a clever-first-male-child-of-two-very-young-parents.
I arrived at the solution rather organically by putting myself back in my three-year-old mindset (I was a very similar type of child.) As a child, I remember feeling that I wished I could have expressed myself coherently enough to explain to the adults in my life where I saw the discrepancy in our views, but instead just got frustrated and freaked out. I hated that I freaked out and it made me feel bad about myself.
Once I thought it through, I came out with an approach that was really just a variation on the traditional time out model.
How I Made It Work For Me
Next time my son misbehaved (I should actually say: erupted), he was asked to please leave the company of people. I told him in no uncertain terms that his tantrum was unacceptable, and that he would have to kindly think about his actions in a place where he would not bother anyone else, and where he could concentrate on what he had done.
Of course, this "banishment" to meditative introspection was met with some fierce resistance at first. So I left the room. I told him that I was unwilling to listen to his screaming and that until he could communicate in a more human fashion, I could not be in the same room with him, nor could anyone else.
He got the point.
He would cry and stomp off LOUDLY to his room or outside or to the playroom, but unless he slammed doors or was otherwise destructive, I let this go.
Five to ten minutes later, he would generally be playing with action figures, telling them not to be so violent, that maybe they should talk about it instead of hitting.
Or he would have drawn me a picture, of an angry face, which he had crossed out, next to a happy face, which he had circled.
In our "debriefing" conversations, which we held after each of these solitary self-collection exercises, it was evident to me that he was thinking about things and working on his issues in his own way, at his own pace. In fact, he was frequently far harsher on himself than I could ever be, and I often found myself protecting him from himself rather than having to punish him further.
I was vindicated by the fact that he almost always did calm down by himself in a relatively short period of time (in the tantrum years, that is), and he did so without being bribed, threatened or screamed at. Also, the tantrums grew shorter, less severe, and less frequent as time went on.
Dealing With The Root Of The Problem
Most important, though, to me, is the fact that he became introspective and self-aware, and started dealing with the root of his unfavorable behaviors, rather than just avoiding them to appease the adults in his life.
Of course, he still misbehaves occasionally, and consistently tests his limits with gusto and ingenuity. He still has a bit of an attitude, as well; "bit" being a relative term.
However, he is a person with a very strong inner voice, a conscience of proportions I have rarely seen in a little kid. He is also capable of self-imposed temper control, which many adults I know have not yet mastered.
When time out is a look inward, parental discipline has the added dimension of teaching a child self-discipline. In my opinion, this is the greatest gift a parent can give a child.