The idea of "time out" (as described in Time Out: What is it and how can you make it work for you?) goes against everything I believe in as a mother and as a therapist. In fact, the concept of "time out" exasperates me. It sounds more like a program designed for laboratory mice than one that is healthy for children and parents. Why am I so offended by Time Out? Because it denies context.
Everybody seems to be doing time out. Wherever I look I see articles about the pros and cons of the method and descriptions from parents of how it did or didn't work for them. But these descriptions are usually missing the next step: time in. I first saw the term "time in" used in The Discipline Book, by Dr. William Sears. He cautions parents that while time out is an appropriate method of disciplining children, no parent should forget what is equally important to their young child -- time in.
The first article I wrote for WholeFamily, over two years ago, was about time out. I chose this topic because the issue is relevant to many parents of pre-school children who want to discipline their children without spanking. I also felt, and still do, that time out is one of the most misunderstood and misused methods of child discipline. Over the course of the last two years, I have continued to get questions from parents who are frustrated by trying to get two-year-olds to go to their rooms and parents whose four-year-old children are spending two hours a day sitting in chairs.
"If you don't give me that, I'm going to hit you!" my four-year-old said to her three-year-old brother. I was shocked! Why was threatening to hit her brother her first reaction? Why couldn't she at least try asking him nicely? When I thought about it, however, I realized that she was only imitating me and that threatening to smack was how I was keeping the kids in line lately. While I almost never actually gave my children a slap, I realized that lately I had been threatening to do so regularly.
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.
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