My husband sent me a link today to an article that was talking about how Time-outs, as a discipline method, are overused, and not only ineffective but they also may cause more harm. Unfortunately the article didn’t go into much detail about why time-outs can cause more harm. I am going to try to talk about that a bit here as it relates to parenting and education.
In teacher’s college, we weren’t really taught discipline methods, so in the classroom most people were using a combination of their personal style and whatever was the norm for that school. People didn’t often question school culture discipline tactics, it was just part of the system. Perhaps that explains why there are 19 States in the US that still include corporal punishment as an acceptable means of discipline. You get so entrenched in the system’s norms, that you can’t see when the ideas are no longer relevant or acceptable.
So in my experience teaching young children, if you were at a “good” school you might use more rewards than punishments, but if you were teaching at a “bad” school, your principal might have the whole staff trained on methods of classroom discipline that were board approved and used shaming and consequence techniques. Regardless of the type of public school you were at, giving time-outs was standard. In fact, if you weren’t giving time outs, your effectiveness as a teacher might be questioned; that’s how prevalent time-outs were.
When I first started teaching in Ontario public schools, I didn’t have children yet. In my first year teaching Kindergarten, I gave time outs sparingly, but I remember a mom called me once to find out why her child was put on time out. I explained the situation, but even as I did, I didn’t feel confident in my answer. I loved her son and I knew that I had crushed his spirit. I didn’t like the time out culture I was a part of…but I didn’t know any alternatives.
After my son was born, I found myself following my instincts as I learned how to care for him and nurture him. As a new parent, I felt drawn to Attachment Parenting, Continuum Concept, Positive Parenting, and RIE. Respecting my infant son as a full human being meant that we had a strong bond and by the time he was entering his toddler stage, I couldn’t imagine putting him in time out. I understood the power of responding with love and I was more aware of how shame is used to curb behavior with powerful psychological consequences. Thankfully, being a mom absolutely made me a better teacher.
Returning to work after my maternity leave, I brought my parenting style to the classroom. I loved those children and dug deeply to find patience and connections in an environment that regularly denied their needs. (I feel like I am harnessing my inner John Taylor Gatto here!) With my new confidence in parenting with love and connection, there was no doubt, I had the best class in the school. But when I say that, I don’t actually feel a sense of self-pride. I feel proud of the kids because others could see how awesome they were but when I say that I had the best class in the school, I actually feel…ashamed? Ashamed because I realize now that I probably always had the best class in the school…I just never had a clue that I needed to protect every kid in my care and hold space for them so that they could just do their thing and walk around being their regular awesome selves. I needed to shield them, like a giant umbrella, so that their happy little flames didn’t get snuffed out…and unfortunately, it took me several years to learn that.
That little boy that I put on time out before having kids was a REALLY awesome kid and I loved him, but I sure wish I knew about positive parenting when he trusted in my care. Because I know that hurt people hurt people and people become hurt by major events and a build up of minor events…a school career of crushing minor events is enough to silence a soul or dim a light, no matter how exuberant to start.
As I have explored aware parenting/positive parenting/RIE I’ve become more aware of the importance of establishing and respecting boundaries, honouring feelings, the power of routines, and modelling behavior. When our children are struggling with behavior, our adult role is to be the calm in our child’s storm. We don’t have to solve problems for our children, in fact we shouldn’t rob them of that experience. Nor should we engage in the power struggle of trying to teach them “a lesson”. We just have to be a safe place for them to catch their breath, reassure them as they experience their feelings, and confidently stand by them as they navigate their mistakes. I still have a lot of learning to do in this area but I’m confident that I’m on the right path.
I often read about ACE Scores and Resiliency and Addictions. For a long time my favourite show was A&E’s Intervention. I was so curious about how the addict’s lives lead to a position where they would seek pain and felt compelled to feed their addiction and perpetuate their pain. In my search to understand ACE scores, resiliency, and addiction, I started to come across articles like this one that talk about how the opposite of addiction is connection and it just makes so much sense to me. According to this line of thinking, the best way to prevent and treat addiction is through connection; connection to our feelings and connection to our community. Sometimes unfortunate or sad things happen to people but connected people, loved people, valued people, have had experience in dealing with those feelings before. They know the value of working through the full spectrum of feelings, that reaching out to their community for support will make their journey more bearable, and that they deserve forgiveness, peace, and love. Leaving a child in timeout does nothing to support a child through their emotions and experience. Isolating them from those connections add new feelings of loneliness, confusion, or frustration to their already upset state.
Every time a child has a tantrum, tests a boundary, makes a mistake, or feels overwhelmed by life, we have an opportunity to guide them through their experience to a place of peace and calm. What a wonderful gift to give another human being! As trusted adults, we can help children to learn resiliency through our loving presence and empathetic connection. That blows my mind! What a magnificent power we have!
I think the hardest part of realizing that power is the self-awareness of realizing that despite our best intentions, we are often so flawed ourselves. We have grown up in systems of fear…school cultures of the bad kids being sent to the office, left alone to cry, feeling worthless in our mistakes…we have such sadness to sort through ourselves if we want to guide our children to peace. But what a gift for those brave enough to start to peel back the onion layers.