I’d first like to say that this is NOT one of those judgmental parenting posts, where I think my method for discipline is better than yours. If time-outs work for your child and your family, please carry on! We still sometimes use them too.
I’ve done my research on time-outs, and I’m sure you’ll be super surprised to hear this: there are mixed messages about them. I’m no expert, but I think it might be because all kids are different. And not like, Type A versus Type B personalities. Nope, our kids aren’t pre-packaged into easily-analyzed varieties.
There is no Venn diagram of child behaviors and corresponding personalities with a fancy key that tells us how to handle them. If there was, it’d probably look like my hardwood floors after that time my daughter blew bubbles inside, creating a million overlapping soap rings in a 12-foot radius.
So, the alternatives to time-outs are, as you can imagine, as varied as the behaviors that call for intervention. The list of recommendations include: time-“ins,” sing-alongs, forced chores, talk-it-outs, dance-it-outs, time outs for Mommy, emotional coaching, and a witty line about “not reaching for the wine bottle.” Too late!
Also, why are all these sites telling me to calm down? Sometimes I’m the one who gets hit or screamed at. Don’t I have a right to be angry when my child hurts me?
I have friends who use time-outs successfully. Their child sits for a few minutes, calms down, and is on their way back to play time.
That never worked for my daughter. Time-outs always had the opposite effect – she would first calm down, immediately repeat the negative behavior, then throw a worse temper tantrum than the one before. Parenting.com says it’s because time-outs [can sometimes] trigger a child’s abandonment panic. So, even if they can calm themselves on their own, they’re still in an agitated state of panic which may cause them to repeat behavior and get even more upset the second time. It should also be noted, per this article, that there is no scientific research to show that time-outs have long-term effects of any kind on our kids – because common sense will tell us that we’re not really abandoning them or being abusive.*
So, then I Googled, “But what the heck do I do when she’s hitting me?” Come on, help me, Internet!
I guess there really is no way to put it into a neat box, without therapy for all of us. So, I made my own rule list for my daughter that I just finished over the weekend. It only took me 5 years to figure out what works for us:
I’m allowed to get angry. I don’t need a mommy time-out if I’m reasonably angry about something. Emotions aren’t scary, evil things.
I’m allowed to drink, within reason, after your dad takes over the bedtime routine.
If you are hurting me or another child, you get removed from the situation. Call it whatever you like, but this is a real-world consequence. If you assault someone, you go to jail. We remove you from the general population so that the community feels safe. Same concept. You can take a moment to think about your actions, you can play by yourself, but you can’t make other people feel unsafe.
OR, I remove myself from the situation by saying, “I don’t feel safe right now. I’m going to go in the kitchen.” And, yeah, I’m going to say it: I hope you’re feeling some “abandonment panic,” because I’m in a panic that I’m raising a convict.
But most often now, we hug it out.
Because, what happened was: the hitting thing was a short-lived phase. Sure, it still resurfaces from time to time, and I give her that look that says I’m going to threaten her with some abandonment panic, and the behavior stops.
And because, more often, it’s like what happened a few weeks ago: my daughter was feeling hurt and neglected, because she couldn’t have a fourth chocolate-chip cookie. She was tired and miserable, and she just started crying — loud, screechy, weepy, teary wails of desperation. I could have put her in a time-out to try to get her to regulate her emotions on her own. But, instead, I said, “Cookie time is over” and gave her the biggest mom hug I could ever give. She held onto me for a long time, until she stopped crying. Then, she perked up and went on with her day. And this is how I’ve been handling unreasonable emotional outburst behavior, without frequent time-outs and, for us, it works.
P.S. You know what else?? Yesterday, my 4-year-old told me that, one of her friends had tripped and fallen on the playground at school. She said, “Mama, I asked her if she wanted help getting up, and she didn’t want help. Can you believe it?! So, when she got up, I just gave her a big hug, because that always helps.”
Oh yeah, I got this parenting thing down! I mean, well, we’ll see how tomorrow goes.
*The inspiration for this post, including the info about abandonment panic originated from this Parenting.com article.