Some of you may have noticed occasional comments from Sharon Silver, the Mommy Mentor. Sharon runs a parenting consultancy called ProActive Parenting that deals specifically with discipline of toddlers and preschoolers. Did your ears prick up yet? Mine did, because the toddler age is notoriously hard to discipline. Haim Ginott stuff works fabulously on 4-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 15-year-olds, 20-year-olds and your co-workers, but there isn't much in it that's concrete enough for a 16-month-old. The gap between baby and big kid is long, and I haven't found a lot of discipline techniques that aren't either punitive and focusing on control, or comforting but laissez faire.
So when I saw that Sharon concentrates specifically on that age group, I definitely wanted to look more at what she's doing. Her philosophy is that discipline is always better than punishment, and that parents need to be teaching their kids skills for living. She says, "Discipline expresses a parent's boundaries with the emotional volume turned down." She's been working on this age since her own boys (now adults) were that age, and has come up with some solid techniques.
She offered to write something for Ask Moxie, so I tossed her a reader question about timeouts. The question is from Rosemary:
"I’ve got a 20 month old boy who is telling me he’s “Big Boy Mummy, look!” as he trundles his way through life. He is in child-care 5 days a week and he loves going there (literally runs out of the door in the morning) My husband and I having been having a long (like 6 month long) conversation on behaviour, discipline, limit setting, exploring etc and the techniques or policies that we want to use. No brainer – smacking is out for us. So, that leaves time out as the next most popular strategy but we have one problem. It just feels so darn wrong to both of us. We know enough as parents to trust our instincts, and normally that has worked for us. But, I’m starting to doubt my judgement on this as many people whose parenting styles I admire swear by time out. I’m not sure it is the best fit for my son. He feels things so deeply and he is attached to us like duct tape (which is just how I like it) and I know how scared he gets when he thinks he has lost us. He is quite happy to roam around and explore as long as he knows where we (or his child carers) are.
Taking some quiet time to calm down, I understand. But why does it have to be removed from everyone, sitting on the bottom step or in another room and staying for a certain number of minutes. What is time-out supposed to be achieving? No one has given me an explanation I can really understand yet. All the explanations I’ve heard still seem to come back to one thing: I’m more powerful than you, and I’m going to exercise that power to banish you from my presence. I understand that he needs us to be in charge and that I actually do have power and need to exercise it in his own interests sometimes (and we actually run a tight ship around here). And I guess, deep in my heart of hearts, I feel like taking him to another room and dumping him for some time until he’s got himself under control just feels like plain abandonment. I can remember times as an adult when I’ve been out of control, and if my friend or husband had just walked away from me, I don’t think it would have helped me calm down much at all.
And here’s the big kicker. What do I use if I don’t use time out? We’ve had lots of success with him so far, just by really listening to him, actually teaching him to do things, using lots of modelling of positive behaviour, acknowledgement of his effort and when he manages to control himself, and trying to remove the big sources of frustration and power struggles. We try and focus on the big things and let the small ones go through to the keeper. But will that work as he gets older?
Here's Sharon's answer:
Your post raises some really important questions about timeout, and that’s great, even if other moms don’t like that you raised the issue. Your parental intuition told you that timeout wouldn’t work well for your child. Listening to your intuition is always a good thing, even if the only result is a deeper investigation into the topic. My post also includes a response to spanking as a form of discipline. You said you don’t spank, however there are others who do.
As a society we’ve learned a great deal about preschool behavior since the days when we were being raised.
We’ve learned that parents really are a child’s first teacher. We’ve learned, that just like adults, the way you speak to a child determines whether he fights with you or listens to you. We’ve learned that a child’s foundation, the core of who he is, is being built during early childhood. A child learns whether or not her emotions are accepted or punished. She learns whether self-control is managed for her, by spanking or consistent punishment or she learns, by how her parent deals with defiance, that ultimately, she needs to control herself.
Based on all that knowledge, plus the love parents have for their child, I wonder why anyone would spank in this day and age?
As your child’s first teacher what lesson do you hope to send your child when you spank, even if done lightly? Unfortunately by the time your child becomes a preschooler he will have learned that the way to get what you want from another person is to hit them. Is that what you intended to teach?
Timeout for little people has some issues as well, let me explain.
After 17 years of teaching parenting and 29 years of raising kids, in my opinion, timeout for preschoolers, no matter how long they sit, just doesn’t work well for little people and here’s why.
Timeout was designed as a time…out for both parent and child to take a short break so they can get calmer and then come back together to resolve the situation.
That’s not the way timeout is being used today. These days timeout is being used as the “acceptable” way we punish our children, and there’s a big difference between the two.
Parents usually begin using timeout around 18-20 months because normal developmental defiance has begun to appear. Every parent I’ve ever worked with started out with the best intentions for using timeout. The parent starts out being calm, gets down to eye level, says the right words, and is as loving as possible on the way to timeout. Then as the child approaches two or three the way a parent uses timeout begins to change.
The parent’s best intentions then squarely meet the child’s developmental stage and temperament and a collision happens that goes something like this.
The child refuses to listen or cooperate; he wants what he wants. Now’s the time to teach the child about his behavior, but the screaming the child does causes the parent’s brain to become confused. The confusion from the crying, screaming or constant demanding stops the parent’s ability to think clearly about what to do next. Not being able to decide what to do next makes the parent frustrated or angry, and can cause yelling to begin. The parent is unconsciously hoping that the yelling will be the magic key that when inserted into timeout will end this, sooner rather than later, so this can be done.
Unfortunately the yelling upsets the preschooler, possibly to the point of hysteria. I don’t know too many adults that enjoy being screamed at when they’re upset either! The crying causes the preschooler to revert back to a younger emotional place, just to survive the yelling.
You know that emotional place; it’s what’s going on when you say to your preschooler “why are you acting like a baby?” or “stop crying, you're acting like a baby!”
In order to survive the yelling, the preschooler shuts herself down and stops listening.
Ladies, you know this one well; we’ve been accusing men of this for years!
Because the child has difficulty processing her crying, your yelling and thinking at the same time, a preschooler is forced to gain more of the information about the situation from your body language and tone of voice than from your words. And since she’s young and still relies on immature reasoning, what has she learned? All that she has learned is when I cry or don’t do as I’m told, I’m sent away from you—to a place called timeout.
No real learning has occurred. The child has no idea what she’s supposed to do instead. The child was never allowed to try again so she could learn how to manage her emotions and resolve it in a better way next time.
Then the behavior happens again and she’s sent to timeout, again. Her behavior is stopped, for the moment, but she still hasn’t learned how to manage this so it doesn’t happen again, and this goes on day in and day out.
When you see it broken down this way you understand how young a preschooler really is, and you begin to wonder, does timeout work well for preschoolers, is there a better way?
The answer lies in this statement; sometimes the best way to get a child to do something is to speak their language.
I believe that preschoolers need corrections to be made at the preschool level. Don’t forget, your preschooler has only been on the planet for a few years. Even though he’s walking, talking, potty trained and maybe in preschool, he isn’t as old as he looks, especially when it comes to discipline and the ability to change behavior.
Why do I say this, because adults have the ability to use reason and logical thinking; preschoolers haven’t even developed the ability to use logic, and that doesn’t begin until around age 7.
Does that mean you can’t use timeout? No it doesn’t mean that at all. It just means that a better way to use timeout would be to match the concept with a preschooler’s developmental needs.
Just like our computers, I believe that it’s time for “timeout” to get an upgrade!
Here are three things I think need to be included in preschool timeouts.
1. The teaching a parent does needs to be done at the preschool level. An emotional child learns best when information is scaled down to just a few words and the words are something the child can understand even through the tears, words like sit down, no hitting, or use your words, versus that’s not appropriate.
2. The amount of time a child sits in timeout really can be much shorter than 1 minute per age. Having a child sit in timeout for a shorter period of time takes advantage of what I call “child time”, the true amount of time your preschooler can pay attention and hear you when she’s emotional.
3. The ability to “try again” needs to be included with your discipline.
Saying to a child, “you need to try again and show Mommy how you wait for a cookie instead of grabbing one from sister”, needs to be included so a child can learn what you expect them to do instead of what they did.
Deciding how you’re going to correct your child can seem over whelming at times, especially if you and your husband have different points of view or if you feel forced to use something that just doesn’t feel right.
Reading this gave me a big a-ha moment about the need to give the child the chance to correct his/her behavior. That turns the whole situation into a "do over" instead of a big crying scene that just makes everyone feel like a wounded jerk.
Definitely check out Sharon's site www.ProActiveParenting.net, where she has some great free resources (including a PDF about discipline vs. punishment that contains the insightful idea that discipline gives parents choices about how to handle a situation instead of locking them into one course of action) and some awesome paid downloads on a bunch of different discipline topics. She's also doing two parenting seminars in Phoenix, AZ on April 2 and 3, if anyone in the area is interested.
Now you guys know who she is, so when you see her comments here you'll know she's one of us, just a generation ago!
Comments on timeouts, or the difficulties of dealing with the toddler and preschooler years?