Friday, 01 March 2013 00:00

To Time-Out or Not?

Article as it appeared in Your Baby magazine.  By Cath Jenkin

Sending your tot to the naughty corner is a no-no for some moms. Here's why.

The journey of parenting is speckled with daisy kisses and sleepless nights. But the adventure from infant to adult also, unfortunately, comes with a very specific set of obstacles and concerns. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of raising a child is the implementation of discipline. It is through learning discipline that a child learns self-control. Through learning self-control, a child acquires a sense of empathy, understands assertiveness and learns the benefits of determination, even when it can be uncomfortable.

Disciplining Toddlers

By instilling principles of discipline from an early age, you'll find that children will understand life's expectations of them more easily when older. But discipline during the toddler years can be hardest for a parent, as it is at this time where children's natural boisterousness often presents itself through cute mannerisms or rampant enthusiasm. Parents are also instinctively driven to nurture and protect a child, and hopping across the mental bar towards enforcing discipline can break mom and dad's hearts. Parental guilt often stops parents from going through with disciplining a child and this lack of action can have rather negative results.

Taking effective action in curbing unacceptable behaviour in a child is a crucial part of parenting. It is through testing and learning about boundaries in the home that children learn what socially acceptable behaviour is. Emphasizing the principles of cause and effect, condoning good behaviour and actively working with your child to curb bad behaviour, forms part of one of mom and dad's most important tasks.

Think About It

One of the more popular methods of discipline embraces the philosophy of time-outs. This entails sending a child to sit in a chair or designated space, for a pre-determined amount of time. During this time-out period, it is expected that children will calm themselves down and think about their inappropriate behaviour.

But is it effective as a disciplinary measure? Can a two-or three-year old think through their actions and understand why their behaviour is unacceptable?

Dr Edwina Grossi, the founder of the Embury Institute of Education and renowned Durban educationist, doesn't believe that a time-out system works well for very young children. With reference to Lanterns and Lunchtins, her published handbook for teachers and parents with children at the foundation phase of education, Dr Grossi says that "For the young child under three, I believe in distraction and positive redirection first - I do not really like the method of 'exclusion' for any child or person".

She does believe "believe in natural consequences (time-out) for a three-year old... For example, if a child misbehaves on the swing, despite a warning, he has to leave (have time-out from) the swings. Taking away this pleasure for a while will teach him that unacceptable behaviour on the swings has consequences".

Why it may not Work

Dr Grossi has found in her experience that "sending a child to the room for time-out is ineffective as it causes hostility and self-pity to fester. It certainly does not cause children to reflect on, or to be sorry for, what they have done wrong. Discipline should be short and immediate", which requires immediate action and intervention by the parent or caregiver.

Claire Newton, a well-known Durban-based psychologist and life coach, recommends a consistent, timely and age-appropriate form of discipline. "Using the time-out method for children under the age of three could be damaging, as it can cause abandonment-related stress in the child."

Implemented correctly though, she says the time-out system can be effective for children over three. Rather than using punishment as a method of discipline, Claire prefers the use of reinforcement. But if you do use punishment as a form of discipline, "Don't punish your children without explaining the reasons for the rules they have made and why specific behaviours are acceptable or not. Without explanations, children tend to focus on whether they will be punished instead of trying to understand why the act is wrong".

Reward the Good

Claire believes that positive reinforcement of good behaviour is critical. This means praising a child when they behave correctly and being cogniscant that "by paying attention to the child's misbehaviour, it could in fact increase that behaviour".

Using negative reinforcement by sending your child to time-out is also seen as far more effective than outright punishment, says Claire. For example, rather than exerting control on your child by saying, "You must stay in your room until it is tidy, " say, "As soon as you have tidied your room you can go and play." This imparts an element of control to the child, letting them make the choice regarding their behaviour. 

Another factor to consider is that any form of discipline can only be effective when given by an adult or caregiver with whom the child has a bond. Consistent, fair and developmentally appropriate forms of discipline are key for your child's development. The foundation of your family's approach to discipline must lie in mutual respect, and focus on the child's overall development, rather than the incorrect behaviour.

Keep these factors in mind as you navigate through the wonder years of your child's development. With a strong sense of self-discipline, founded in the eraly years of life, your children will become independent adults, secure in the knowledge that their parents loved them enough to say no.

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