Sunday, February 5, 2012

Beyond Time-Outs

I used to give time-outs. When my oldest entered toddlerhood and began pushing buttons and testing limits, I used time-outs. I thought that was the responsible thing to do, lest my child grow up to be wild and unruly with no respect for authority. But they never felt quite right, those time-outs. They always seemed reactionary, as if I relied on them because I knew no other way.

At the peak of toddlerhood with my oldest, with a new baby in the mix, I felt like we got stuck in a behavior-punishment cycle. I was frustrated, I raised my voice more than I wanted to, and time-outs were sprinkled throughout the week. I didn't like it. I didn't like the pattern we were caught in and I wasn't sure how to end it. But I knew it had to be me who ended it.

So I did. I stopped all time-outs. And I never looked back.

I realized that my parental frustration was rooted, not in my child's behavior, but in my own perspectives, emotions, and expectations. I made a concerted effort to change the way I parented, to make my home more child-centered, to let go of being steadfast in wanting things to be done in a certain way at a certain time, to be more proactive in recognizing and minimizing the conditions that might lead to my kids misbehaving.

As I began to become more mindful of my parenting approach and more focused on creating a calmer, more peaceful, more child-focused home--without time-outs and other arbitrary punishments--I found that the overall tone of my home changed. The kids were calmer. They didn't fuss or whine as much. They didn't "act out" or "press buttons" as often. And I began to really enjoy motherhood so much more. I realized that I didn't need to mold my kids into perfectly-behaved, obedient tots. Instead, I needed to recognize their childhood needs, their childhood rhythms, and learn the ways in which their behavior communicated these things to me.

It was up to me to listen, to learn, to change. Not them.

It may seem radical to give up time-outs in favor of more gentle discipline, more peaceful parenting. Sometimes to break a cycle of behavior that makes us frustrated and unhappy takes radical change, and it's up to us as parents to initiate this change. It's up to us to take a time-out, catch our breath, recognize what we might be doing wrong, and try our best to do things differently going forward.

10 comments:

  1. I completely agree. And yet it's so hard. We're going through a rough patch right now, and I feel like when all else has failed (redirecting, giving time, changing schedule) I'm not sure what else to do! The trouble is, even though I know it's better and more effective in the long run not to use conditional statements (if you don't do this then. . .) they tend to work in the short term. So while we don't use time outs, I still find myself using those conditional statements more often than I'd like. I would love to hear about what you do specifically when despite your best efforts it's not going the way you would like.

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    1. Leigh, those conditional statements (and bribery!) are so effective, aren't they?! I do still find that I use them sometimes and usually in hindsight I can see that there may have been another way, again with more proactive parenting. Maybe I needed to leave the playground 5 minutes sooner or given more reminders that we would be leaving soon, or otherwise minimized the conditions that could lead to their unrest or discomfort. Like most things with parenting, it's a work in progress!

      Thanks for your comment and for reading!

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  2. Oh my gosh, I felt like I was reading my own words! This is exactly how we came to be a gentle disciplin/peaceful parenting family too! I never liked giving time outs. They did not feel right to me at all, and with two babies 18 months apart I knew that we needed to do something different. Once I started "meeting the need" of whatever each girl needed at the moment, as well as changing my own behavior our life became what I always knew it could and should be! Thank you for this wonderful post! I loved it so much I shared it on my Facebook page.

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    1. Shel, it's so nice to hear that other moms have taken a similar path toward peaceful parenting and gentle discipline. Thank you so much for sharing this post!

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  3. Thanks for sharing

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  4. Hi! I found your post on the Natural Parenting Group blog hop. We live in Arlington, so we're nearly neighbors. :) I struggled with lots of time-outs for a while too and came to a similar conclusion as you. My daughter's preschool uses time-outs, but I rarely if ever use them at home. I find that the adage is true that negative attention begets negative actions. At home I work with the plan to meet my children's needs, as you suggest. When my almost-four-year-old needs a minor correction in public, I use a book my therapist recommended called "1-2-3 Magic." I only need to say, usually in nearly a whisper tone and with no emotion, "That's one," and my daughter magically behaves. My friends usually whip their heads around and ask me what in the world I just did. It's like a great party trick!

    Thanks for the excellent post. I can see that I will enjoy reading more on your blog.
    Cheers!
    Justine @ The Lone Home Ranger

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    1. Justine,
      Thanks for visiting the blog! It's always nice to find other local bloggers!

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  5. Hi Kerry,
    It was nice to meet you at the park on Monday! I saw your blog link on the park email rsvp, and I'm glad I clicked. Great blog. Re: this post, I have often wondered why I've never done a time-out with my son (2.5 years). I kept thinking "I'll start that when I need it...." and never have. I read a book called "Easy to love, Difficult to Discipline" and it really resonated with me. The general concept is to attribute a positive motive to whatever your child is doing, even if it's the "wrong" thing...and the parent's job is simply to show them the more appropriate way to do what they were intending. It really diffuses tension without relying on a top-down power structure. Looking forward to reading your other posts!
    Susan

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  6. Susan, it was so nice to meet you and I'm so glad that you popped in at the blog! I was thinking at the park how calm and gentle your demeanor is with your kids and how nice it is to see moms who practice peaceful parenting and are enjoying motherhood.

    Thanks again for stopping by and I hope to see you at the park again soon! -Kerry

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