"Timeout" is a very popular method of disciplining young children. It may bring to mind the image of a child sitting in a corner, one minute for every year of age, thinking about what he has done wrong and how to correct his future behaviour.
But is that really what is happening? Is he thinking about how to behave better? Or is he mad and getting madder?
Two minutes into a five-minute timeout, he has probably forgotten why he was put there, and he stomps away. He is sent back to his spot and the clock is started over again. It turns into a huge power struggle and the focus shifts more to the timeout itself than the reason behind it.
This type of timeout is a punishment, based on the assumption that the only way to get a child to behave better is to make him feel worse. It can be successful, but usually only in the short term.
Think about what you do yourself when you are frustrated and need to vent. You might clean the bathroom, listen to music, exercise, read, or engage in any other activity that relaxes you or helps you let off steam.
It might take two minutes or an hour to feel back in control, depending on the circumstances and your mood at the time. It is unlikely that you can set a timer, sit motionless on a chair until the predetermined amount of time has passed, and then emerge feeling refreshed.
Positive timeout gives a child a chance to cool off and calm down. Instead of punishment, which is always external, this form of discipline helps the child learn that she is responsible for her own actions.
When a child’s behaviour starts to get out of control, let her know that it is not acceptable and she can go to her room until she calms down. When she is ready to rejoin the family, she can come back out.
What she does with this time is up to her, within reasonable limits. Screaming, throwing toys and door slamming are obviously not OK. Drawing or colouring, looking at a book or playing with toys can help settle her down.
When she is feeling better, then she is ready to talk about, learn from and make amends for her behaviour.
Some parents may view positive timeout as a reward for unwanted behaviour. It is hard to let go of the idea that punishment is required to "teach a lesson".
But what is the lesson we want to teach? Ultimately, we want our children to learn self-control and appropriate ways to deal with life’s ups and downs.
To achieve this, we need to understand that children will do better when they feel better.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 12, 2012