Feb 7, 2012

Toddler Tuesdays: Using Time Outs as a Form of Discipline

Sorry for the lack of Cocktail Hour Friday and Motherhood Monday posts – you’ll understand after I get my weekend wrap-up posted, soon. But on to Toddler Tuesday.

We didn’t have any Toddler activities planned for this weekend mainly because we knew we were going to be too busy (at least I was) but one not-so-desirable behavior kept rearing its ugly head for us throughout it. Basically, London has suddenly taken up using our pets as targets when practicing her aim when she is so inclined to throw a toy. She tagged Tulley in the head on Saturday with her keyboard and Jake in the head on Sunday with her teapot!

And in our house, we’ve found the best form of discipline to get our message grounded into London’s head that her current behavior is not ok is with a “time out”. We actually had to start using time outs earlier than I ever expected we would need to. I can’t remember exactly how old London was when we started using them, but I know it was soon after she was able to walk around 10 months old, and therefore, more able to test the limits.

Time outs have been particularly helpful in stopping London from climbing, and possibly falling and splitting something open – like her head on our coffee table. We used to give her the 1-2-3 count down to a time out as a warning that she was very close to a time out. This warning system quickly lost its effect. Now we only give one verbal warning of “London don’t..” or “London stop…” and then go straight to the time out. And in reality, the time out is what is effective, not the warning. But at least we’re trying to correct the behavior verbally before a time out is necessary.

Time outs have also helped curb bad behavior at daycare – once they told us about the climbing issue they were having with London there we told them how time outs at home had stopped her from climbing at home for the most part. Yes we deal with it occasionally but not like we were.

Of course then I read an article today about why one lady, who also is a psychotherapist for a group that caters to children and adolescents, does not believe in time outs. She gives 5 reasons why time outs are not an effective form of discipline. You can read the full article here if you’re interested.
Her first reason is because brain connections are formed from repetitive experiences and she doesn’t want her kids repeated experiences to be ones of isolation. Except isn’t that how society functions? You commit a crime and you’re isolated from the public for a specific amount of time if the offense warrants it? Even children will avoid other children who hit or bite them. We only are friends with people we enjoy.

Reason #2: The point of a time out is for the child to calm down and reflect on what they did wrong – except they often just get angrier and think how mean mom or dad is instead. Yes, one reason we use time outs is to get London to calm down. And I don’t expect her to reflect all that much (she’s only 20 months old) – but I do want the cause and effect to be enforced. Treating our pets unkindly has consequences. For London, sitting still and not playing is a consequence. And yes, I do remember getting mad at my mom or dad when they placed me in time out when I was little. But they would then sit down with me after the time out to discuss why I was placed in it in the first place. We do this with London, too.

After the Jake incident Sunday, Cameron got on the ground next to her and explained that what she did was bad, that she needs to be nice and gentle with the animals. Then he gave her a hug to end the time out. And guess what, she was calm when he was speaking to her because we waited for her to throw the tantrum of being in time out. After the time out she went back to playing and we haven’t had another incident since. I know there will be more but hopefully not two in two days.

This doctor listed reason 3 along the lines that the punishment should fit the crime. A time out doesn’t fit the crime in her mind. One of her examples of how they would is if the child hits the TV with the broom, then the broom gets put away. How do you suggest then that I punish my child after she hits the dog with the keyboard – hit her in the head with the keyboard? Yes, the keyboard was taken away, but obviously it wasn’t the keyboard causing the behavior – as noted with the teapot the next day. Yes, if she uses her chalk to color anything other than the chalkboard the chalk goes away for a few days. But she can use any toy to pelt the dog – better to take her away from the toys until she calms down than take all the toys away from her. And yes, we remove the animals if they want to be removed, but we’re also not going to remove them and make them feel isolated from the family after being pelted.

Reason #4 was pretty close to reason #3 – parents use time out to punish, not calm the child and educate the child. She feels parents don’t teach after the time out enough to make it effective at changing the behavior. Our aim for time outs is to punish yes, and also teach. And based on our results, I’d say its working.

Last, the psychotherapist feels that kids need connection and that misbehavior is the result of a child inappropriately expressing a need or a big feeling they cannot express, like not understanding why their favorite juice is not available to them when they want it and not being able to gracefully request that mom add it to her grocery list. Really? Yes, London acts up when she doesn’t get her wish or way exactly when she wants it. We go through this every night at dinner when she wants to eat at that very moment and not understanding that it takes mom and dad a little time to make it. We do what we can to distract her while we prepare her meal and offer her snacks and milk while she waits. But sometimes we just have to let her throw a tantrum on the floor until her dinner is ready. I would never put her in timeout for that.

I know as London grows up time outs will be phased out as she can understand more and more. Punishments will more and more fit in line with the crime, but for now, time outs are working. And I know a day will come when time outs will no longer be effective but by then we’ll have other options and probably not need to use them any way.

What do you think about time outs? How would you discipline a 20-month old? How long do you think time outs should be for a 1 year old?

~ Sarah

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