Timeouts are a hugely controversial subject. Until I looked into this for this week’s Monday Night Conversation, I never knew just how controversial! But I guess that makes sense. Lots of things that are to do with our children are highly personal – and can cause strong reactions in those around us and us, particularly when emotions and our children are involved.
I remember the same being true for breastfeeding (or not), having a dummy (or not), teaching the children to sleep through the night (or not), food choices and now discipline too.
So today’s topic for me is about sharing with you the way I try and do things in our house and what does and doesn’t work for us. Like with any of the other subjects, for me, it is about sharing views and respecting each other’s way of doing things.
It is also about sharing new ideas with each other – so that we can each learn things and try new things if we are struggling. That is why I have created the FB community group to complement our Monday Night Conversation – and start more of a two way conversation. I invite you to join the group. You can find it as a blue link in the top right hand corner of this page.
What are Time Outs?
It was something that was created in the 1950s as an alternative to hitting children that was popular at the time. The term was initially coined by psychological therapist Arthur Staats.
The idea is that you remove your child from whatever activity they are doing (where they are showing unhelpful behaviour) and put them in a quiet place by themselves with no distractions so that they can calm down. The parent stops giving them attention – and the idea is that by taking attention away from the negative behaviour, you gradually teach children over time to stop this behaviour. The time the children are placed in ‘time out’ is limited – normally to a maximum of 1 minute per their age.
For those of you who watch Super Nanny, you will know that this is something that she regularly teaches parents that are struggling with children’s behaviours.
But in 2014 an article was published in Time magazine that was titled ‘Timeouts are hurting your Child’. Dr Daniel Siegel (MD) and Dr Tina Payne Bryson (PhD) talked about how time outs create a sense of isolation in the children and that what they are really being taught is that when they are having a hard time or are faced with difficult feelings they will be forced to be by themselves and deal with them alone.
Does anyone else have that fear?
When I read this initially (my eldest was born in 2013) I felt confused and worried. I certainly didn’t want to harm my children and make them feel abandoned when they needed me most – to navigate strong and tricky feelings.
But over the years I have also learnt to recognise that in the heat of the moment – especially if you have a strong-willed child – you can very quickly feel overwhelmed and want a clear ‘go to’ solution that will diffuse the situation effectively and help you all to calm down.
Becoming a parent has surprised me in many ways – but particularly in how clear I feel about many things when it comes to my children. Even when my husband disagrees, or others around me – for the first time in my life, I feel this very strong sense of what I think is right – no matter what.
I have had that very clear gut feeling about most things when it comes to my children – I wanted to breastfeed (but recognised that it is not that easy for everyone, or something that they want to do); I didn’t like dummies, I wanted to help them sleep but not by leaving them (although this is still tricky for us sometimes) and discipline is similar for me.
I think the theme that is coming through for me as a parent is connection – I want to teach my children key skills alongside them, helping them to navigate all the tricky feelings and situations as best as possible, while also setting healthy boundaries (for them and me) and allowing them to be independent. This is tricky at times – as I am learning all the time, and I know I find it hard sometimes to find that balance between their needs and my own.
For Timeouts my gut feeling was that this approach didn’t sit right with me. In fact, in the heat of the moment, when we have tried it – every fibre in my being has told me this doesn’t work for me as a discipline tool.
But what to do instead?
My absolute favourite thing to do instead of a time out is to call a ‘meeting on the couch’ instead.
This idea was first introduced to me by Lawrence Cohen in his book Playful Parenting. Anyone in the family can call a meeting on the couch and the aim is to both calm down and re-connect when you are ready – rather than one party punishing the other. Once you are on the couch anything can happen – sometimes I will talk about why I feel upset and invite my children to do the same, sometimes we just have a cuddle and don’t say anything for a while, sometimes we both just calm down and then do something completely different for a bit (and then return to the conflict much later to brainstorm together how we didn’t like/ could have done differently). The thing I like is that (when it works) we both feel better for it rather than one of use feeling worse. And we get to own the problem and the solution together, too.
Other things that I try before things get out of hand
I have noticed my children are affected when they are hungry or tired – so this is something that I check first. Each of them react differently to a lack of sleep or food, so my advice would be to know your child and make sure they are physically happy before you start to correct behaviour. It may be as easily solved as offering them a banana or a nap...
Another thing that I have found really helpful is to see whether they are bored – boredom (and sweets) seem to play havoc with their sense of what is acceptable behaviour. If my lot are bored, frustrated or discouraged they act out. Equally, if they’be been cooped up all day and need to let off steam it is noticeable in their behaviour. The same is true when they have had certain sweets – as soon as the sugars hit their bloodstream their behaviour changes!. In this instances, if I can – I will try and let them run around outside, or play something with them to help them be less bored, or get rid of some of their excess energy. I have found this is far more effective (and everyone stays happy) than me trying to get them to ‘sit still’, and reprimanding them. Of course, this is not always possible, but seeing their behaviour as a logical reaction to the situation really helps me stay calm and help my children rather than get mad at them for not behaving. In a way this is a form of preventing behaviour rather than punishing it!
Timeout is a term in sport when somebody decides they need to take themselves out of the equation – so if you need a break – take yourself off – but communicate clearly with your child that you are the one needing a time out – you are not trying to leave or ignore them, you are just taking a short break to help you regulate yourself and then you will be back. This is another tool that I have found very helpful – especially in the moments when emotions are running high and I need to calm myself down before I can help my children to do the same!
And finally, (and this is one I am constantly working on) try to set clear limits on what you are prepared to give. Sometimes I have the patience for my children to have lots of time to pick different outfits or lots of bedtime stories or a choice of something else to eat. And sometimes it is late and it is just time to have one story and go to sleep. I find setting clear boundaries in these situations and then sticking to them firmly but kindly (and knowing in advance that my children will try and negotiate more) works wonders. It is when I give in to something that I am not really prepared to give is when I get frustrated myself. Linked to this, and equally important, I find that filling my own cup regularly (through sport, reading a book, having a nice bath etc) is invaluable in helping me stay in my good place and be able to be there for my children. When I don’t get a chance to do this, things are so much harder – because, let’s face it, parenting can be relentless at times!
I also think, that being kind to yourself and other parents is hugely valuable too. We are all learning and doing our best, as we navigate through big feelings (ours and our children’s), sleep-deprived days and nights, and doing the best we can day to day! So on days, where you make mistakes, own these, apologise to your children and learn from them together as a family.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and continue the conversation in our Facebook group too. You can find the direct link to this in the top right hand corner of this page (the blue link). Or search on FB under MMT Parenting Community.
Next week I’d like to talk about discipline for older children. What do you do when they are tweens, pre-teens or even teens? What do you do about the back talk, the walking off, the downright refusal to do as you ask, or the constant negotiation? Tune in to get some ideas for how to handle these tricky situations.
Let me know your comments as we go too and do share any topic suggestions that you might have. Simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or respond to me on Instagram or FB at mummymadethis.
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That’s all from me for today.See you next week Monday from 8pm on FB or YouTube! Have a lovely week every one!