As Parents, many of us learn from magazines, teachers, friends, our parents, methods of dealing with and managing “undesirable” behavior in our children. We’ve all heard of the terrible twos, and the troublesome threes. These phrases are coined for a reason. They identify some typical kinds of behavior in their developmental stages. Too often I see parents, as well as professionals use “time-out” inappropriately to attempt to eliminate certain challenging behaviors, instead of supporting the child through a developmental stage. They fail to assess and attend to the need of the child at that moment. There are some simple solutions that will make time-out nearly obsolete in your home.
Young children have sensory, nourishment, and environmental needs that MUST be met to avoid the kinds of behaviors that the caregivers are typically trying to avoid; like tantrums, hitting, and crying excessively. For example, one child may need a lot of play that involves engaging their strength, and excursion of energy; “heavy lifting.” This child might use activities like building with heavy blocks, and carrying heavy objects. We may find this type of child shows up looking aggressive at certain times of the day without this kind of excursion. If we simply use a “time -out”, and put this child in a chair or spot not to move, we make the problem worse. Even if this child has learned to sit in time-out for a few minutes, chances are he/she needs to be redirected to movement or you will see the same behavior shortly after. In a sense we are using “time-out” to punish the child for his/her energy needs instead of supporting them to learn to regulate themselves. You cannot teach regulation with punishment.
Erikson’s stages of development are a good guideline understanding developmentally typical behavior. For example, Early Childhood is considered ages 2 to 3, the stage of autonomy vs. doubt and shame. It is a normal part of development for children to go through a tantrum phase as a part of developing personal control. If we react with anger and frustration, or put them in “time-out”, we will miss an opportunity to support their growth. Redirecting toddlers and helping them articulate with the language they have, while still establishing clear boundaries for them teaches them to move toward self-regulation and supports them in mastering this developmental stage. If we put them in “time-out”, we miss the opportunity for their learning, and ours!
Some children may need a “time-out” area that is used to meet their need for a quiet space to get some down time. In this way the “time–out” place can be used as a tool for self-regulation and coping with the environment. The time out place does not need to be set up as a punishment place. Setting our children up to feel rejected and isolated is not a long term solution to mastering typical behaviors or ones that may be showing us some more significant difficulties.
Perhaps sometimes all our kids need is “time-in” with their parents. As a working mom, I notice that my son often needs the contact and playtime with me when I get too busy. Let’s rethink the use of time-out, and find the best ways to give and teach our children what they need to be whole, happy, and thrive in their lives.
Image Credit: Happy Bandit