I’ve noticed in several different places on the internet in the last couple of weeks various writers, parenting experts, and parents, discussing the proper use of time-outs. And I just have to say, the only necessary or effective use of a time-out is when your kid requests one for herself. Otherwise in every case, it involves an adversarial and even combative approach on the part of the parents; employs an emotionally violent coercive methodology that disrupts the continuity of the parent-child bond; and flat out doesn’t communicate anything to the child about “proper behavior”, or teach empathetic awareness, or any other “lesson” but: “My parent has abandoned me. I have been judged unworthy to be in the family,” and/or, “My parent doesn’t love me – she sent me away.”
The pundits espouse a lot of hooey about “teaching kids discipline”, and making sure the little angels learn that there are “consequences” for being “disruptive” or “acting out” or “misbehaving”. And it all strikes me as a bunch of total nonsense. I’m not trying to be mean or anything, I’m being completely honest.
When I hear someone say, “You have to teach them discipline,” I automatically think, “HOW!?” How does someone teach another to have: “behavior in accord with rules of conduct; [or] behavior and order maintained by training and control”? It seems like you can teach children the rules (to some degree and depending on their st/age), but you can’t really make them behave in accordance with those rules. Sure, you can get away with tricking them, or threatening them, into compliance on specific occasions, but you haven’t “taught them discipline”. You’ve simply treated them as if they were idiots or criminals and bullied them into jumping through hoops; you haven’t taught them “accord with [the] rules of conduct” at all. True capital-D Discipline is something that a parent can only hope to inspire, and you’ll get no where in that direction by forcing them to be alone for every infraction of the rules you want them to follow.
In addition, I find it just a teeny bit absurd to say that we are “teaching them about consequences” by using a completely external (and to the kid, seemingly arbitrary) punishment, which absolutely would not even exist as a “consequence” if we weren’t inserting it. The consequences of actions in the real world generally have more to do with the feelings and reactions of those involved, or the laws of physics. If we want to teach about consequences, we should have our children look at the effect they have on the people, things, and space around them – not shove them in a room by themselves, to be sequestered from the experience of any of the real consequences.
And when we get right down to it, I think it is misnomers like “disruptive”, “acting out” and “misbehaving” that help to put parents in the headspace where they think they have to resort to some power move in order to restore “order”. The trouble is, the cure is usually more disruptive to the general order than any action that came before. And the underlying problem is the adversarial nature of terms like “misbehaving” which set us up to be in opposition to something far more nefarious than our own upset child. How does someone actually mis-behave, anyway? I mean, either you are exhibiting behavior or you aren’t, you can’t mess up the action of exhibiting behavior…
In the end, I think terms like those above and the others like them wind up playing whole families for utter fools. Parents feud with their children over these ghost concepts which miscast the latter as somehow dysfunctional almost from the womb, and desperately in need of modification(s) in order to become the archetypes of propriety. We are sent to war with our children’s “disruptive behaviors” and must wrench our kids, however forcefully, from the clutches of their own baseness. And in that context, something like time-outs come across as the most humane manner to wage that war. Otherwise, we’d have to beat them into submission, right?
I think, instead, we’ll all get much further, if we abandon coercion all together, especially the emotionally and psychologically traumatic versions exemplified by time-outs and other love-withdrawal methods. And I think we’ll change the very nature of human existence if we are capable of waging peace in our homes instead of war. And further, I think we will unlimit human potential in ways we can not yet even imagine, if we would cease looking at our children’s (and other fellow human’s) behaviors as separate from the emotions and needs of the individual before us.
Children don’t have to be seen as anything other than humans with needs just like us. When they feel certain needs and desires, they will want to communicate them. It may take some time wherein they express those needs in ways that we don’t like, but eventually, if we are consistently modeling responsiveness, empathy, and communication, they will have no trouble learning to assert their needs in a generally conducive manner. In times of upset, we can assist our children in processing their feelings, and getting to their underlying needs (if any still exist after the feelings subside), and perhaps even assist them in meeting their needs. And after the episode is passed and when they are capable of hearing it, we can even offer them information about how we’d prefer they approach getting their needs met in the future.
Time-outs fail in these kinds of situations because:
- They distract all parties involved from the original feelings and needs, by putting all focus squarely on the feelings associated with the punishment itself, and the new unmet needs of contact with the parent and immersion in the parent-child bond.
- They send the tragically erroneous and intensely problematic message that certain behaviors make the child unloveable and unacceptable to us. In fact, time-outs communicate pretty clearly that specific behaviors are more important than the child him/herself.
- They cause undue stress on the relationship(s) involved, rather than contributing to the same.
- They have been shown to be totally ineffectual at modifying long term behavior patterns.
- They don’t teach anything about the empathy, communication skills, or forethought that we’d like to see our children exhibit instead of “misbehaving”.