The other day I was catching up on my shows and I was watching an episode from Supernanny that is the inspiration for this post. On this particular episode it was a military family with four adopted children. The children all had come from other countries and had very traumatic lives before they were adopted and because of this the mom didn't want to over discipline for fear of making the children feel unloved. Her husband had been deployed to Afghanistan and so she was raising these children as a single mom.
In this episode the mom showed Jo (that's Supernanny's name in case you didn't know) that instead of putting her kids in time-out she would put their toys in what she called "toy jail." Jo was flabbergasted by this and basically made fun of the mom for putting the toy in time out and not the kid. Jo then taught the mom the Supernanny's way of time out which is putting the kid on a naughty stair for a set length time that is based on the child's age and every time the kid gets off the stair the timer starts all over and after the child has sat through the time limit quietly they then talk to their child about what they did wrong and the punishment is over.
This is not necessarily a "bad" thing except for the fact that you are really relying on a child's comprehension skills for this to be an effective way to eliminate a behavior and it can be way overused. I personally do not believe in time-outs in the traditional way that many people do and I do put toys in "time-out" if that is what you want to call it.
Parents typically begin employing the time-out form of discipline at around the age of 2 because well let's face it 2 yr olds are "terrible." They are terrible because they are finally figuring out that they can say no and they can do things for themselves and they have a very hard time understanding that even though they are becoming a big kid and are able to do a lot for themselves there are still a lot of things that they cannot do for safety reasons or because it is time to do something else. One of my biggest struggles with my 2 yr old is transitioning from one activity to the next. He gets in his mind that he wants to play cars when it is time for bed and therefore he becomes very upset and very frustrated and takes out that frustration by either screaming, hitting, throwing the cars or by completely ignoring my requests to clean up and get ready for bed. Now I could put him in time-out because he isn't listening to my words, he is hurting others or he is refusing to clean but what do you think is going through his mind while he is sitting in time-out for 2 minutes? I can't say for sure what he is thinking about because I am not in his mind, but knowing that 2 yr olds are egotistical and don't think beyond themselves and their immediate wants and needs I am going to make an educated guess and say that they are probably thinking about how crappy it is that they are in time-out and not so much about why they are there. 2 yr olds also have a very hard time thinking about the "past" or even the future and tend to think more in terms of right this minute. A 3 yr old is much more capable of processing the facts and understanding the fact that they are in time out because they made a bad choice however this is not the most effective way to discipline kids in my opinion.
I prefer to discipline my kids by the use of logical and natural consequences (this will be a post for another day) over time-outs. My kids toys get taken away when they choose to not clean them up, when they choose to play with them improperly (throwing them, using them to hit others) and also when they are fighting over a specific toy. Along with the toy being taken away is an explanation to them about why their toy was taken away. For example, M and J both want to play with a Woody doll (from Toy Story in case you were wondering) and neither one is willing to let the other one play with it first so they are fighting. I will tell them that they need to figure out who gets to play with it first or else no one will be able to play with it. They then have an opportunity to make a better choice and resolve the issue on their own by working out how they are going to share a toy. I always give them atleast 2 - 3 minutes to figure it out before I intervene, and will only intervene earlier if the fight becomes violent. If they choose to continue fighting then I will walk over and take the toy and tell them that because they chose not to agree on how to share the toy I am choosing for them and no one gets to play with it. I will then take the toy and put it where none of them can reach it. If they get upset I tell them that I gave them plenty of time to decide how to share it and they chose to fight instead and therefore no one gets it. I don't put them in time out for not sharing because I don't think it is the most effective of teaching them how to share.
The only time I will put my child in "time-out" is when they are so upset that there is no way I will be able to talk to them and they just need to cool down for a minute and then I will take them to their room and tell them that when they are calm and ready to talk to me in a polite and respectful way then they can come out. I don't set a timer, I just close the door and walk away. When they are calmed down they will come out and then I will talk to them about whatever is upsetting them and help them figure out a way to handle the situation. Sometimes they are in their room for less than 30 seconds and sometimes they are in their room for thirty minutes it just depends on them and how long they feel they need to calm down. For my 2 yr old I put him in his bed and because he doesn't understand come out when you are calm I wait for him to stop crying and then I get him out because I know he is now calmed down. I feel that everyone including adults needs time to get away from the situation and calm down before they can reasonably deal with an upsetting situation and my kids have heard me say that mom needs a time out and have watched me go into my room lock the door count to ten or a hundred and come back out a lot more levelheaded than I was before my time out. My kids also know that they can send us to our rooms when we lose our cool (this is mostly my husband for yelling when we have a rule to not yell in our house).
What are your thoughts on time-outs? Do you use them and find them effective and if you use them what is your time-out procedure?