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Time Out or Time In?

By Patricia Morgan

At a recent seminar a mom asked the speaker, “What am I supposed to do when my child misbehaves? There are dozens of options for influencing children’s behaviour and they are all hinged on the relationship the parent has with the child, the family rules and the child’s personality, age and capabilities. In this space I will describe what I believe are effective Time Outs and Time Ins.

For many parents Time Outs have become a “Go to your room!” or a “Get out of my face!” banishment or rejection. Ideally Time Outs provide a breather between two parties who are in tension. Time Outs can be used by parents and children, spouses or countries at war. Often it is the parent who really needs a Time Out. And, it’s OK to do just that. It provides great modeling of self-responsibility and self-soothing. “I’m feeling really frustrated. I want to handle this problem calmly. I’m going to take a 10 minute Time Out and then we can talk some more.”

Isn’t this what we would like our children to be able to do for themselves? Don’t we want to teach our children how to be responsible individuals, to have the skills to better manage their emotions, thoughts, words and behaviours? Then we will want to give a healthy meaning to Time Out.

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In addition to modeling the usefulness of a Time Out there are times when we can say to a child, “Do you need a Time Out so you can come back and start fresh?” Have the child decide when they are ready to come back and TRY AGAIN with new and different behaviour. Some time and distance from a situation is often what many of us need. For many children Time Outs have become either an experience of being rejected to their bedroom when times are tough or freedom to play in their Disney World-like paradise. The first bedroom scenario can create a hated room where the child has trouble sleeping at night while the second scenario provides a “so what” attitude of escape from relationship and responsibility.

Otto Weininger, professor emeritus in the Early Childhood Education Department at OISE talked about Time In. His belief is that when children are not managing themselves well they need more attention. He encourages parents to say something like, “I see what you are doing and saying. It seems like you need more help. I am here for you. Let me know when you can manage on your own.” A Time In may involve taking the child out of a challenging situation such as fighting with a playmate or sibling. Once separated from the scene parents can discuss the unacceptable behaviour and encourage the child to choose appropriate ones. Some parents may worry that children will misbehave to seek attention and Time In sounds like giving into it. Seldom do children misbehave to receive attention where parents hold them accountable for their behaviours and require them to choose responsible alternatives.

Whether it’s a Time Out or a Time In, ask yourself what you want to accomplish and what you want your child to learn. In the between times get some Time Out and Time In for yourself.

© Patricia Morgan
Patricia Morgan is a counsellor, speaker and author of "Love Her As She Is" and "She Said: A Tapestry of Women's Quotes".


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