June 19, 2004


Iíve never been a big fan of time-outs. For my childless readers: this is when a kid is doing something you donít want and you say ďdonítĒ and still she does it and you say ďdonít, I mean itĒ and she does it again and you say ďIf you do it again, you get a time-outĒ and she of course does it once more because thatís what boundary testing is all about, and then you put her in whatever time-out youíve devised. Send her to her room, go sit in the corner, sit silently on the park bench. For as many minutes as the child has years, or so itís supposed to go.

But Iíve seen time-outs in action and I frankly think theyíre kind of dumb. Thereís no causal relationship to the deed, itís not like ďDonít hit the cat with that book or Iíll have to take the book away.Ē It must feel like a random punishment to the child. Besides, Iíve seen kids in time-out, especially young ones, age two or so. They sit there, bored and fidgeting. Not really learning much of anything except that itís dull to sit around with nothing to do. It rarely seems to stop them from getting up and doing their dastardly deed again. If not immediately, then next time they get a chance. Mostly, it just feels like jail. And why would you want to teach a kid about that?

Are time-outs better than spanking? Unquestionably. Nevertheless it's not my favorite discipline method. It's just not terribly logical.

However. My son? Has started giving himself his own time-outs. Today he got mad at me and ended up by saying, ďI need you to go away so I can calm down.Ē A few days ago, he ran into his room shouting, ďI need some alone time!Ē

Ironic? Nah. Thereís an enormous difference between alone time as an external stricture to contemplate the bad thing you did and alone time that you realize you need in order to pull yourself together. The former is, well, see above. The latter is an important kind of self-knowledge. Iím proud of Damian for sensing what he needs, verbalizing it, and then giving himself that time to re-organize his body and his mind. Maybe this is what time-outs were supposed to be about: teaching the child how to cool down when he gets out of control. Maybe Iíve just seen it done wrong all along.

No matter. Iím pleased as hell that Damian is doing it this way. Itíll stand him in good stead, I suspect.

Posted by Tamar at June 19, 2004 11:28 PM

We have done time-outs with Sophia, but pretty much when she's gotten so hysterical and out of control that she just needs to calm down. In fact, what I say to her is: "You can come back downstairs when you feel calmer."

One day she was so angry at me that before I said anything, she started stomping up the stairs and yelled: "I'm going upstairs until YOU calm down!"

Posted by: Diane at June 20, 2004 09:09 AM

Ah, but see, that's what I've always though a time out was--a time out or away from whatever situation it is that's frustrating or angering the child (or the parent, for that matter). So yesterday, when N hit Em, I scooped him up and told him that he was going into his room so that he could calm down and talk to his sister rather than hitting her. Kind of like an extreme form of redirection.

With Em, it's now morphed into a real "break" kind of thing rather than as a disciplinary action. When she's all frustrated or crying or whining or angry, I'll ask her if she needs some time to herself so that any continued discussion or interaction will be productive, and she'll often say something like "yeah, I need to get myself calmed down," and she'll go off into her room until she feels better.

I agree that timeouts can be overused, and used improperly. But I actually think it has a lot of utility. Or at least it has for my kids.

Posted by: Tiny Coconut at June 21, 2004 12:56 PM