I’ve never used timeouts nor have I ever taught them. I see them as a form of avoidance, “You go sit over there as I don’t know what to do with you.” I find them weak as they don’t really teach any lessons other than how to sit in a chair in the corner.
Here are 2 scenarios, one with timeout, one without:
With Timeout: Johnny hits Sally with the TV remote because she changed the channel away from his favourite show. Mom puts him on the naughty chair in the corner for 5 minutes (1 minute for each year of his life). When the 5 minutes are up she tells him he can get up and has to apologize to Sally for hitting her. There, done. A couple of days later he hits Sally again and the process is repeated because Johnny has only been taught that being mean leads to punishment. He hasn’t been taught how to be nice. Saying sorry isn’t much of a lesson, it’s just empty words to most kids, and adults. The real lesson is learning how to treat people well and act appropriately.
My Method: Johnny hits Sally with the remote control. Mom takes the remote control away from Johnny and gives it back to Sally telling her she can watch her show. She then hugs Sally to make sure she’s okay. She calmly says to Johnny, “Come with me.” She takes Johnny into Sally’s room and says, “For the next 2 days you are going to make Sally’s bed to make up for hitting her. When that’s done you can watch your favourite show again.” Then she walks him back to Sally and explains that he’ll be making her bed and says, “Sally, if you tease him about making your bed, you’ll make his bed instead. Everyone understand?” Let’s assume they agree then Mom says, “Now, how about we all play a game?” Johnny has learned it’s not okay to hit people and how to be nice to people. He’s also learned that TV is a privilege not a right. The game at the end is a bonding exercise. It’s to reinforce good relationships instead of focusing on negative behaviour.
Once a child has been punished you have to let it go and move on in a positive way. Too often I see parents reminding kids about how rotten they’ve been. Ugh, what does that do to self-esteem?
Oh and by the way, if Johnny doesn’t make Sally’s bed his favourite show is not allowed. It’s used not as punishment for being bad, but reward for being good. It’s in line with my “as soon as method”.
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Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach