Time outs are quite a common occurrence in today’s parenting world. Parents often use this method when their child will not cooperating or their behaviour is deemed inappropriate. However, often with out even realising it, this method is actually doing more damage to your child and could in fact be contributing to their acting out behaviour.
When I talk about time outs I am referring to removing a child from your presence. Either through telling them to go to their room, sending them to the corner, having a “time out “ chair or even the simple act of ignoring them. Yes, even ignoring them is considered a time out – in my books anyway.
Here is what happens when we place a child in “time out:”
To help illustrate the point let’s use an example situation. Three-year-old Molly has been told not to jump on the couch. You notice while cooking dinner that she is jumping on the couch. You tell her to stop jumping on the couch, so she promptly sits down. Within 30 seconds she is jumping on the couch again. You send her to the corner to “think about what she’s done.” She is feeling upset.
This is what is going on internally for Molly:
Molly spent the whole day at her parents’ friends party. They went early so her Mum could help prepare the food. There were other kids and she did play with them. However, she didn’t like some of them as they were playing too rough and she was pushed over. Molly wanted to spend some of the day with her parents, but whenever she approached them, they told her to go back and play with the other kids. Molly started feeling disconnected, upset and frustrated that her parents weren’t meeting her need for closeness and quiet.
Upon arriving home, she asked her parents if they could play with her. Her Mum said she needed to cook dinner, and her Dad said he had some paperwork to do. So Molly was left in the lounge room to play by herself.
She really wanted to play with her Mum and she noticed at the party all the kids playing a jumping game, so she thought it would be fun to jump on the couch. Molly hears her Mum telling her to stop, but she has had more fun then she has had the entire day so she does it again.
When Molly’s Mum sends her to the corner she feels upset, frustrated and is disconnected even more from her needs.
At the extreme end of the scale if this was to continue Molly would become disconnected from her parents, she would feel resentful towards them and sometimes guilty. Later in life she may start to rebel against her parents authority. She would distance herself from her parents and would not have a strong connection with them.
When children are not cooperative or they act out, they are really calling out for help. They are telling us they need to connect with us, in order to connect with themselves. They may also have painful emotions to release from past experiences of stress, anger, overwhelm or sadness. When we send them to time out we are distancing and disconnecting from them. Most of the time what they actually need is pure connection.
Pure connection involves giving our children our 100% presence and awareness so that they feel safe and connected to us. When this happens they may release their emotions through crying or tantrums, if they are older they could tell us how they feel and most importantly their need for closeness has been met.
If Molly’s Mum had chosen instead to play with Molly for 10 minutes before cooking dinner, Molly would have felt connected to her Mum and the chances are she would have been content to play by herself while her parents were doing other things. Or if her Mum had chosen to stop what she was doing and go over to Molly when she was jumping on the lounge “I can see you really want to jump on the lounge, but it might break. Would you like to help me cook dinner and perhaps we could make up a jumping game that doesn’t involve the lounge.”
Can you see a difference between this pure connection response and the time out above?
Tips for Pure Connection
- If you have an important task to do, play with your child first and fill up their connection cup. Get them to direct the play and lots of stress releasing laughter will ensue.
- Get them involved with what you are doing. Young children especially, love to be involved with whatever you are doing whether that be cooking, hanging up the washing or gardening. This will help form strong connections and they will learn a lot in the process.
- Set them up to play near you. If you need to do some paperwork, try and do it at the dining table and set them up with some paints, pencils and paper so they can have fun while you work. It also means you are close by if they need your help.
- Relax and let them interrupt. Children will interrupt you no matter what you are doing because they are either too young to understand how important it is to you to get your work done or they have a strong need for connection that they cannot contain. When you teach yourself to go with the flow and learn to not let interruptions bother you. At the end of the day ask yourself is what I am doing more important than forming strong lasting connections with my child? Paperwork can wait 10 minutes your child’s childhood does not. Plus playing with your child might just be what you need to refocus, so when you do go back to the work you have a clearer and calmer mind.
- If they have pent up anger, frustration, sadness, overwhelm (you do not need to know why), it is important to allow them to freely express themselves in your loving and understanding presence. Firstly this allows them to release the stress hormones associated with these emotions through crying and raging. Secondly it teaches them that you accept and love them unconditionally, which nurtures their self-esteem and trust in you to meet their needs.
When we truly and purely connect with our children, instead of disconnecting them further through time outs we not only allow their emotions to develop naturally. We also form long lasting strong relationships with them that will last a lifetime.