It’s one of my earliest memories. She took my toy and I didn’t like it, so I bit her. I mean, what would any self-respecting 4 year-old do? I had to defend my right to have that toy! Right?
Ok, the truth is, I don’t really remember how I felt. I actually don’t even remember why I bit the girl. I just remember one thing: the penalty. I remember the sting on my tongue and the bitter taste.
Yep, you guessed it. My teacher put soap on my tongue and stood me in the corner. She decided that if I was going to use my mouth to hurt someone, she would do something to keep my mouth from enjoying that activity. And it worked. I never bit anyone again, mostly because I didn’t EVER again want to experience the same pain and taste the soap left lingering.
Now, I’m not advocating that we all get a giant bottle of soap and start dousing disobedient children. Please don’t hear that. I bring up this story to illustrate my point: We don’t usually stop a behavior unless the consequences we face are logical, painful, and memorable. Take, for example, touching the stove. You’ve probably burned yourself on something at some point in your life. What keeps you from touching the stove? It’s mostly the fear of that painful and memorable consequence: getting burned.
So, based on that lesson, is time out an effective discipline tactic? I’d argue that it’s not. Here’s why.
Why I gave up time out
1. Time out is neither painful nor memorable.
Please don’t panic. When I say “painful” I don’t mean physically. In most cases, I want a consequence for my children that will cost them something. It is “painful” because they will lose something, like the privilege of riding his bike because he won’t put it away where it belongs. Some consequences are actually physically painful, like when you keep running on the sidewalk anyway and skin your knee. This is actually a natural consequence. That means it happens as a natural result of a poor choice.
As parents, we don’t give natural consequences to our children. (I’m trusting that you are not pushing your kids down on the sidewalk. Haha!) But the consequences we do give should be “painful” in the sense that the child actually wants to avoid the consequence.
I find that time out costs my kids very little, maybe a little time away at most. And let me tell you a secret about that. MANY children actually enjoy a little time away from the situation. They need to be removed from it and don’t know how to do that themselves, so they act out. When we respond by giving them a time out, we are actually making them happy. That encourages the very behavior we are trying to stop. And of course, it leaves them ill-equipped for handling problems when we aren’t right there to remove them from the situation.
2. Logical consequences are far more effective.
If the time out chair isn’t teaching my children anything, I need a better solution. I have no desire to tell them the same things over and over again. I want them to learn the lesson and I bet you do too! Logical consequences are the answer to this. The concept is simple. Rather than just spewing out wrath and penalty for inappropriate behavior, take a few minutes to cool down (you can read more about that here). Then, come up with something that “fits the crime,” so to speak. Like I mentioned above, if my child leaves his bike out, he clearly hasn’t proven that he is responsible enough to ride it. So I take away that privilege for a period of time. For little guys, this might be one day. Older kids might lose it for one week.
This kind of consequence puts the responsibility back on the child. It costs them something, and it’s memorable. Now it might not work perfectly or right away, but think about it. What benefit would sitting a child in time out be for helping the child remember to put his bike away? There is no logical correlation to the child. I hate to leave you hanging without many example here, but I do discuss this more in depth in my post Creative Consequences for Kids. You’ll find lots of practical ideas there.
3. Time out does little for the heart condition.
I do want the behavior to change, but the thing that is easy to forget is our purpose in child training. Am I giving a consequence because I am just annoyed with them or do I have a higher purpose here? For me, I’m not training my children to look good in front of others. I don’t want him to put that bike away simply because it makes my yard look neat. I’m more concerned that it might cause someone to trip and fall, or it might rust out in the rain.
I’m training their hearts. I want them to choose to do right because it’s right. The time out chair does very little for this. It does offer a few minutes to think, and I have used it for that purpose, but then I need to take action on the real issue. If I want to get at their heart, my goal is to give more logical consequences, followed up with a good conversation about their choices. I usually will ask them 3 important questions that help lead them to the truth about their behavior.
So what do you think? Are you ready to try it?
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