There have been many times in my marriage when I have ‘forgotten’ to make dinner. I say forgotten, but what I really mean is that I have become so engrossed in whatever I was doing at the time that I neglected what I was supposed to be doing. I am certain it was unintentional; nevertheless, my focus was not on my responsibilities. Never once has my husband come home and said, “That is it. Go to your room and think about what you have done!” Nor has he taken away my computer privileges until I learned my lesson. Instead, he lovingly asks if he can help or suggests we order pizza.
Helping Children Self Regulate Behavior with Positive Time Outs
I realize that the idea of my husband sending me to ‘time out’ or grounding me seems ridiculous. And if he did, I would be more likely to sit and think about how angry I am at him rather than think about a solution. Or, I might beat myself up with feelings of inadequacy and guilt over not being the perfect wife and mother. Neither situation would get dinner made.
As ridiculous as it seems, adults impose negative time outs on children all the time. Websites and retailers offer cute pictures of time-out chairs, as if having a cute form of punishment removes the parents’ guilt or somehow makes the isolated child feel better. In reality, having specific time out furniture really says that the adult expects and is planning for misbehavior.
Rather than imposing isolation as punishment for misguided behavior, Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of the Positive Discipline series, suggests removing the negative aspect and creating a positive time out. Dr. Nelsen explains that the main purpose of a time out should not be to punish, but to help adults and children calm down until they are able to function positively and rationally. Only when everyone is calm can problem solving begin.
Positive time-outs are empowering because they allow children to gain control over themselves instead of having limitations forced upon them by others. Learning to self-regulate is an important life skill that will serve children well in their adult life. Positive time outs are respectful means to help children regroup and manage their own behavior.
When my son was 3 years old and before I learned about Montessori, he attended daycare while I was at work. I would pick him up and hear about the wonderful day he had had but once we got home, he would completely fall apart. At first, I tried punishing him by putting him in a traditional time-out, not letting him play with his trains, etc. But that only seemed to make matters worse.
One day when I was at my wits end and felt like crying too, I scooped up my son and just hugged him tightly on my lap. We snuggled in our big pink chair. Slowly, I felt the tension melt away from his little body. He stopped crying and hugged me back. After some time, he started talking about his day and what he wanted to do at home that night. Eventually, he forgot his tears and frustration and was ready to go play. There was no yelling, no fighting, and best of all, no hurt feelings.
This positive time-out became our nightly ritual until he no longer needed it. Sometimes, he would ask for “Mama time” at other times of the day when he was feeling frustrated or out of control. By asking for time-outs, he was showing that he recognized and could control his own behavior.
Being considerate and respectful of a child’s feelings helps develop his sense of belonging, which in turn builds his identity. Providing this respect should never be compromised. Instead, we must put ourselves in the shoes of the child and think about how we would like to be treated in the same situation.
For more information on positive time-outs, you may wish to visit Dr. Nelsen’s article on Positive Time Out.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, October 22, 2013.