Timeout.

I was commenting on this post, over at Life With Roozle and my comment got very long, so I decided to post it here instead. This is a hot topic these days — discipline. In fact, The Who’s preschool is planning a session with a parenting coach who will talk to all the parents about discipline and I for one can’t wait for it.

Anyway, the original post was about timeouts and the question was about how we felt about them and what alternatives we use. This was my comment:

I recently read an article about timeouts and why they don’t work. It said a lot, but the message that stuck with me was the one about how kids already feel bad when they are misbehaving (because their major goal in life is to please us) and isolating them in punishment makes them feel worse. I get that. And I don’t want to make my kid feel worse.

But in the moment, I love the timeout because it gives me a break. And gives me an opportunity to direct my anger in a way that is an alternative to smacking the everloving crap out of him (which is what I want to do when he is really pushing my buttons, but what I have never done, and will never do.) I can say, “SIT HERE,” and then walk away and take time to cool off alone and usually, he is just so glad to be released from timeout, that his behavior improves exponentially. But those are not reasons I am proud of for utilizing a “technique” that ultimately probably does more harm than good. So, for that reason, I very rarely employ the timeout. Sometimes I snap to it in a moment where I feel unable to pull myself together enough to make a different choice. Sometimes (especially when I have not had enough sleep or I have PMS) my fuse is so short that I know that a few minutes apart is the only thing that’s going to allow us to move forward calmly.

But, ultimately, I think taking a break is a better way to go. Redirection is a better way for sure. Lots and lots and lots of love and tenderness is a much more appropriate response to a toddler whose emotions are overwhelming him than an angry directive to sit alone on a step. So, I do really try not to let it get to that point. I do find, though, that I need a few minutes of silence to collect myself sometimes and I am fortunate enough to have a kid who seems to be able to understand that. I can say, “Let’s have a few minutes of quiet time,” and usually he will comply. He has never been a kid prone to out of control tantrums, so even in his anger and frustration and sadness, he can usually find his way to a more peaceful place.

Another thing I struggle with is the warning. When The Who is choosing not to cooperate or is on the verge of making a really unhelpful decision (which is all “good-parenting” code for “being a pain-in-the-ass 3-year-old”) I want to have a way to ward that off before it goes full-blown. My tendency is to threaten and warn. “Do you need to sit in timeout?” is something I will often ask, which is weak because I don’t want to sit him in timeout anyway and I know I will have to follow through if we continue down that road. I will sometimes say, “We won’t have time to read stories if you don’t cooperate,” but then I am taking away an essential and cherished part of the bedtime routine that we all love. I say these things, though, because they work. Because he doesn’t want to sit in timeout. Because he doesn’t want to miss stories. The threat of the consequence is enough 99% of the time. But lording my power of punishment over my small child feels bullying and punitive and I am sure there is a better way to encourage helpfulness.

I just haven’t found it yet. Or maybe I have and I need to figure out a way to put it into practice.

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