Discipline and Parenting–New Perspective on “Time Outs”

” Few experiences are as challenging as parenting. At its core, parenting is about self-learning, discipline, observation, problem solving and empathy (growth mindset) . One of our most important jobs as parents is to witness and influence the development and learning of our children from infants and almost more animal behavior than civilized human behavior. In the evolution into integrated, whole humans we know the process is slow but eventually their identity is shaped and they learn skills for prospering and surviving in the world.

I have had some recent conversations with parents about the use of “time outs” and it’s effectiveness as a discipline tool with their kids. There seems to be wide acceptance of the technique. My concern is that I have noticed that it is executed in different ways by different parents for different reasons. From these experiences we know that important brain connections are formed from repeated experiences like timeouts. So I have gone on a search to find out what the experts think about the technique and how it can it used effectively as a teaching and learning moment rather than as punishment. So when I see parents using isolation and rejection techniques like “timeouts” for misbehavior or other verbal or non-verbal mistakes I do a double take; wondering if this timeout technique is for the child or a way for parents to get relieve from difficult situations or a way to just show who is in control. Timeouts many times seem to be a misapplied technique to try and  shape behavior. What I believe is that most parents do want their children to repeatedly experience and learn to do and say things in the right way. 

So, instead of a time out, I’ll often ask my kids to practice good behavior.  If they’re being disrespectful in their tone and communication, I might ask them to try it again and say it respectfully.  If they’ve been mean to their sister or playmate, I might ask them to find three kind things to do for her before dinner.  That way, the repeated experience of positive behavior is getting wired in their brain rather than the misguided negative reinforce of timeOuts  

Between theory and results there is something lacking with the “time-out” discipline technique: that is to say, understanding how and when to use the technique to achieve the most desirable, effective and practical results that are a win-win for the parent and child. The research shows that “time-outs” can be effect if they are used infrequently, of short duration, explained clearly to the child before being used, administrated calmly and in specific steps.The problem is that most parents do not use the technique with the proper intentions, and in the prescribed way. Parents need education, guidance, practice and enlightenment when using this powerful but many times ineffective tool. Don’t get locked into a power struggle with your child make sure they understand why this tool is being used and that it is the behavior you don’t like not them as a person.  Many times between theory and results there is something lacking: that is to say, education, practicing the right technique and common sense.

So in summary, the time out tool used correctly can be helpful in disciplining your child in really difficult situations or frequently observed misbehavior that needs to be handled for safety and social interaction reasons (biting other children or parent). Used properly the tool becomes a part of a thought-out parenting strategy that is followed by positive feedback and connection between parent and child. On the other hand, in actual practice with the best of intentions, it seems that many parents use what can be termed an “inappropriate” or “punitive time-out” approach. This approach has become very popular (thanks to the Nanny TV reality show) as a-go-to discipline tool and reaction to unwanted behavior. Unfortunately it isn’t always executed in an appropriate and consistent way, as discussed above. It now appears to be used too frequently, for too long a time and done as a punishment and coupled with destructive parental anger and frustration.

In the Growth Mindset philosophy–your child’s opinion and feelings are respected and acknowledged  the child is asked to share his/her view.

Children need structure and boundaries and they want to follow the rules if the adult clearly defines the expectations and rules, then invites the child to assume responsibility for his or her behavior.  Assuming responsibility for behavior is to understand and accept the consequences for violating rules.

After reviewing the brain and child development research literature I believe that the best approach for developing a “growth mindset” toward discipline in a family is to create an open climate for interaction that supports and nurtures self-discipline, which develops over a long period of positive conversation, step by step learning of techniques that work, consistency and modeling.  The basis of discipline is respect: respect for oneself, respect for others, and for the environment (property). The goal is to create a positive discipline strategy that set limits for behavior, but encourages growth and learning.  If your child tests and disregards the expectations and rules of the family, the parent seeks to understand the underlying causes and tries to use this moment for teaching by finding ways to engage the child in problem solving and thinking about how to do things the right way. 


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