When my daughter turned two, my husband and I found ourselves sending her to “time out” often. Why? Well, because that’s what we thought would work to catch her attention and change her behavior. Most parents I knew did it too, and quite frankly we didn’t know we had any other options. It worked the first few times, and we felt darn proud! She even avoided doing whatever it was we didn’t want her to for a while. But then, it stopped working! She started making a game of it, putting herself in time out — frustrating the heck out of my husband and I, or blatantly doing the very thing we didn’t want her to as if to poke at us! We were stumped and went back to the drawing board. Apparently, time outs don’t work for most parents. And here’s why:
it adds more confusion,
they don’t learn anything,
it is only a temporary solution to a bigger problem,
it is the opposite of what they really need during those frustrating power struggles.
Part of my job as a mother is to help teach and support my children through difficult times. Let me tell you, it is NOT easy to do that when my daughter is losing her cool and throwing a fit! But keeping in perspective what is REALLY going on in her little head has helped me keep calm.
You see, toddlers are especially IMPULSIVE. They depend on us to help them navigate as they lack self control and reasoning. Their brain literally doesn’t know how to manage situations like us adults do yet! So in those moments of “defiance,” sending her away to time out doesn’t help. And while my intentions were good, I realized long term it wasn’t working and certainly not helping her or me in the process.
Imagine, if you were upset and needed help, would you want to be sent away and told to stop crying? Of course not. I read an article that said those same words and BAM! My heart and head took a HUGE shift.
So now we do “TIME IN” —
What’s that? Tuning in to each other. Slowing myself down and not reacting in anger to what she is doing (or not doing) behaviorally. Taking a moment to connect with her by bending down and looking at her in the eyes. It’s remembering that her crying and yelling (sometimes the same words over and over) won’t last forever, and that she needs me in this really hard moment. It’s taking a moment to breathe, and reminding myself that she isn’t acting clearly because she literally CAN’T yet. So why would I expect her to or attempt to punish her into changing? It’s not possible.
The result? We still disagree, and she still doesn’t listen to my instruction or behave appropriately all the time (because duh- toddler life). I still have to set firm boundaries and tell her “no” when I need to, but now I work really hard to acknowledge her feelings and remind her that she is safe. She still has her meltdowns; but you know what? They don’t last as long! I let her know I am right there when and if she needs me, and totally empathize because I too know it’s hard not getting what I want or not knowing quite why I feel the way I do at times. Sometimes I have to give her space, or distance her sister from her while we work it out so she isn’t harmed in the cross fires. But I don’t send her away or tell her she’s not allowed to share her anger, disappointment or tears. We walk through it TOGETHER.
Most times after she lets out what she needs to, she asks me for a hug. We spend a few minutes talking about what happened, and I help her put into words what she experienced while reminding her that she is loved and is allowed to feel all those big feelings. I spend a few moments talking with her about why I said “no” or explain why she can’t do “X” and often we search for a solution or alternative we can agree on for next time. Most times however, she just wants a hug, to connect and feel safe, and to get back to playing.
From my experiences with time outs, I never felt this level of communication or connection with her. And I also never observed a real shift in her behaviors or understanding like I do now with “time in.”
I hope this brings you a new perspective when you face the daunting challenges of disciplining.
Perhaps with practice and time, this alternative approach will unleash a new understanding over those challenging moments, and eventually you’ll begin to see them as “teachable” or “bonding” opportunities as I now do.
“Discipline is not a set of rigidly enforced mandates, but a process in which the child LEARNS to be a social being.” -Magda Gerber