One of the more popular methods of disciplining children is “time out,” which involves sending a child who misbehaves to a designated location for a set amount of time as punishment. While I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I have found an alternative to time out that has proven much more effective for my daughter.
When my daughter acts in a way that is disrespectful, here’s what I do:
STOP — Whatever we are doing, I stop immediately and we deal with the situation in that very moment. Whether we are at home or in public, I acknowledge the undesirable behavior NOW, rather than saying “we will deal with this later” or “we will talk about it when we get home.” If you wait until later, your child has already moved on in their mind. I know that the situation will be most effectively handled if it is done in the present.
Get attention — To do this, I talk in a low voice so my daughter has to get quiet to hear me. I only raise my voice in what I would consider an emergency situation where I need instant action (for example, if she were about to run across a busy parking lot without looking). Otherwise, I get down to her level so we have direct eye contact and speak in a calm, even, firm voice. She knows that I mean business. Yelling or getting angry when not absolutely necessary can cause a child to recoil in fear and miss the message you’re trying to give.
Time to Yourself — After I have explained why the behavior in question is unacceptable, I tell my daughter, “I am going to let you have some time to yourself to think about your actions and make a choice if you would like to be around us.”
How “Time to Yourself” is an alternative to time out:
“Time to yourself” is similar to “time out” in that it involves my daughter going to her room. However, “time to yourself” is different from “time out” in that it is not presented as a punishment, but rather, a choice. I explain to my daughter that she has two options: find a more positive way to interact with us, or have alone time in your room.
I chose her room as the location for “time to yourself” because it is a safe place, where she won’t be on the defensive and can instead constructively work on a way to self-regulate. This is not about shaming or humiliating for “bad behavior,” but rather removing the child from a negative situation and giving them the space and the tools to change their course of action.
There is no time requirement — I allow my daughter to take as much or as little time to herself as needed. Sometimes she is ready to come out within just a few minutes. On other occasions, she will spend thirty minutes to an hour in her room, resting or reading. On those days, she obviously needed to recharge and not have to be around people for a while. When she emerges, my daughter is calm, happy, and eager to please. Sometimes she has even made her bed or cleaned her room while she was in there, without being asked!
Think about it: we parents start to get a little crazy when we don’t have “me time” for a while, so it makes sense that kids would too. They are always surrounded by others, both at school and at home, but might not know how to vocalize their need for space. While bad behavior itself isn’t acceptable, this could be your child’s way of showing you that they need a break from the stress of socialization.
Discipline can be a hot-button topic among parents, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every family. However, this alternative to time out, or “time to yourself,” has been a very effective tool for helping my daughter to cope with stress and find positive ways to express herself around others.
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