Time outs and naughty chairs have become standard fare for parents who often feel at a loss for how to change the unacceptable behavior of their children, even with the youngest of children. The practice of using time outs originated in an attempt to stop using physical punishment on children in order to gain cooperation. As a disciplinary tool parents will send their “misbehaving” child to their room, or some creatively named chair, with the intention of making the child sit and think about what they have just done.
However, most children will not easily go and sit quietly in a chair to ponder the choices they have made, and come out with new and improved behavior. This can be seen time and time again on Super Nanny, when the Nanny or the desperate parents have to repeatedly, physically move the child to the “Naughty Chair”, until eventually the child has been broken like a misbehaving animal, and sits, usually crying, until the adult says they can get up. Is this what we really want for our children? To break them like an animal?
This parenting practice, in fact, can backfire all together, and the actual enforcement of isolation can create an issue all its own. When children are isolated they feel shame, guilt, unloved, unappreciated, and misunderstood. They can become discouraged and begin to act out in other ways. Many children decide to get even, harbor resentment, rebel, or distrust adults all together. The time out has not built self-confidence, impulse control or better ways of coping or behaving.
Time outs come from an authoritarian parenting style, the traditional power over model of parenting, rather than an authoritative parenting style that is demanding and equally responsive to children. What is most effective when children are acting out is the love and support of adults who take time to teach and guide the child’s behavior with kindness, dignity and respect.
Children are constantly learning. It has often been said that they are like sponges. Therefore, they can be taught how to act in a ways that are acceptable without being punished. People often ask how to encourage proper behavior if we don’t punish. My answer, take time for training. Tell them what is expected. Show them how to behave. Set them up, prior to a situation, for success. Recognize and acknowledge when children are behaving in appropriate and acceptable ways, and when they are cooperating.
Very young children need constant supervision, redirection, and training to understand their world—not punishment. It is important to understand that young children are developing their sense of autonomy and initiative. It is helpful for parents to get into the shoes of their child and look at the behavior from a place of curiosity and wonder. Parents can actually ask themselves, “What does my developing child need right now?”
I remember when my girls were very young, and we went to visit my mom and her beautiful collection of crystal figurines that were so artfully displayed on a coffee table, right at toddler level! Many grandparents would move the glass menagerie if their grandchildren were visiting, but not my mom. Therefore, the only alternative was to teach my girls that these shiny, miniature objects were not for our touching, but rather simply to look at. So we did just that. We looked with them; we showed them where they could put their hands on the table; we used language to develop their understanding with such words as delicate and breakable, and most importantly that they were Grandma’s very special things and not toys for us. This took time, and lots of patience on our part. As parents and grandparents, we modeled the behavior we wanted to see from our children. I am pleased to tell you that they never did touch Grandma’s “decilate” crystals!
There are times when parents become frustrated with their children, the fuse is short and everyone needs a break. Take the break, but take it with your child, rather than forcing them into exile. Have five minutes of quiet time on the couch without saying a word. After everyone has calmed down you can talk to your child about their behavior and take advantage of the teachable moment to teach rather than to punish. Handling tough parenting situations in a positive non-punitive manner will make parenting much more enjoyable, and your children will be encouraged to behave in appropriate ways because it’s the right thing to do, not because someone bigger than them has exiled them to the “Naughty chair.”