Children need a whole lot of love, to blossom. But it is also our responsibility as parents to help them learn acceptable behaviour. Parents should always try to use positive parenting methods like logical explanations and the "How would you like it if if the roles were reversed" technique and of course, requests to stop the unacceptable behaviour. But there are always situations where these tools do not work. In these cases, timeouts are one of the parenting tools that helps us and our children when an unpleasant situation occurs.
They particularly work when the child is under 8 years and they are a whole lot better than physical punishment.
Here are some tips on how to make timeouts an effective tool for all Indian parents.
When to give timeouts
- When the child's behaviour is clearly undesirable and you want to send a message
- When you believe that it is important for the child (and yourself) to calm down first
- When you and your child have agreed to certain expectations and the child decides to ignore them
When are timeouts effective
- When the rules are clear, and enforced consistently. This is important so the child understand why he or she got a timeout
- When the timeout is given judiciously rather than for every little transgression
When are timeouts ineffective
- When they are used too often. Learn to use all the various tools you have instead of using only timeouts.
- When they are given for behaviour that is unacceptable, but which you have never explained to the child. For example, Imagine a child seeing an automatic water filter for the first time. She wants water and so open the filter's tap and spills a lot of water. There is no point in giving them a timeout for this. Yes it is unacceptable to spill water but you have never taught them how to use a water filter. This type of timeout makes the child frustrated as they tend to think that "I got a timeout for something I did not even know was wrong"
- When given to children below 3, especially when they do not understand the concept of acceptable behaviour.
How to give a timeout?
- Find a consistent place to do it. It can be the corner of a room or the corner of any room. The place must be well lit. The goal is to make the child think, not feel unsafe.
- The rule of thumb is 1 minute for every year of the child's age (3 minutes for a 3 year old, 5 minutes for a 5 year old etc.,)
- Make the child sit down first. Then say one sentence about why they got a timeout and how long it will be. Then start the timeout.
- Ensure that the timeout is a quiet time. If need be, you can ask the child to fold their hands.
- If the child violates the timeout by talking or leaving the corner, restart the time
- Parents should also be within the child's vision or near the child. The timeout is about making the child think about what they did before they get distracted and do the next thing. It is not to make the child feel lonely or unsafe. Sometimes, when a parent is upset, sitting down can help them cool off also.
- At the end of the timeout, go to your child and discuss with them why they got a timeout. Explain to them what was expected and why they got a timeout. This is important because you want to the child to learn what is acceptable behaviour not just be punished for unacceptable behaviour. For example, say "I expected you to share your toy with your sister and take turns playing with it. When she asked for the toy, you hit her and refused to share it. You got a timeout for refusing to share and hitting her". This lets the child know what was expected not just what they did wrong.
- At the end of the timeout, make sure you express your affection for the child physically. Hug them, kiss them and send them on their way.
There are experts who think timeouts are good and there are experts who think timeouts are bad. The latter say that the timeouts merely result in a power struggle between the parent and the child and are ineffective. One such critique of timeouts can be found here - "TIMEOUTS: An invaluable tool -- for controlling yourself!" by Dr. Laura Markham
However, experts do universally agree that timeouts are a far better way do disciplining a child compared to physical punishment (beating, spanking etc.,). Timeouts can be effective if used as one of the many tools and techniques for parenting in India.