time–out noun \ˈtīm-ˈau̇t\
a brief suspension of activity : a break; a quiet period used especially as a disciplinary measure for children
I have been deeply conflicted about time out for a while. As a positive, non-violent, non-corporal punishment advocating professional I have taught many classes about time out. I have given the guidelines: one minute per year of age, child sized straight back chair, put it somewhere boring, set an egg timer, if they run out put them back and re-start the timer. But to be honest….I don’t like time out. I feel like what we have done to time out in America does a disservice to the actual goal of a time out. We have created a punishment out of something that really should be a regulating tool. We have made kids thing that calming down is chastising. Does anyone else out there have a problem with this?
I, being the emotion coaching parent that I strive to be, began to implement a “quiet place” in our home when Maddie was about 1 1/2. We put a soft comforter on the floor in the corner at the bottom of her bed, placed pillows and beanbags there and board books for her to read. When she would begin to become upset or I could sense a tantrum coming on I would suggest “Why don’t we go sit in the quiet place to calm down”. I would go and sit with her, we would dim the lights and play soft music, she would sit on my lap, sometimes we would read a book. It seemed to be working. In fact, she began to put herself in her quiet place. I was a proud momma.
Then we had our second child and Maddie turned two.
To be fair, I know that consistency was not as good. I know that I was not as available. However, the quiet place, still remained. We would still use it. When I asked her to go she went. Many times I sensed that she was able to regulate enough to calm down. Other times she stayed ten seconds and ran out, said I’m sorry, and re-engaged in a battle within minutes. I felt that she was working the system a bit. She would hit her sister, say “I, go to quiet place”, say I’m sorry and start in again….it is as if she weighed the consequences and decided the hit was worth it. Had she really learned not to hit?
As my life became busier and often more short tempered life I began to try and use the egg timer. She would scream until it would ding and come out more frustrated than before. I started to call it “think it over” and talk to her about what she’d done and how she could do it better next time. (Two year olds typically do not understand these parental sermons). I would be lying if I said that these techniques were effective. In fact, I yearn for the days of the original quiet place we had implemented in our home. It was a beautiful time of calming and connection.
This past week I began attempting to put my firecracker Cady in “Time Out”….Yes, I even started calling it that. It does not work. She laughs at me. She gets up and leaves. She pulls hair again right away. As I have become more punitive with timeout, it has become exponentially less effective. As I have become less willing to do discipline work and hope that discipline works for me, I have become less effective.
Tomorrow is a new day and the “Quiet Place” is returning. Maddie, Cady and I will become re-aquainted with an old friend (who Cady only knew while in utero). I am taking a pledge to use the Quiet Place as a mutual self regulating tool that teaches my daughters to stop and think before they react. I want them to know that they can go there on their own. That there is a safe place for even the scariest and saddest of feelings and that through it all I am here to coach them through it.
We all need a quiet place not a time out.