Michelle Martin

Time out

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Once upon a time, I read parenting books and magazines. I followed their recommendations for discipline and read their rules for “time outs,” probably the most common form of consequence faced by preschoolers for less than- desirable behavior.

I still read the advice, if not as often. I still use time outs, sometimes just the way the books and magazines say to do it, sometimes not. To be fair, every book and magazine has a different strategy.

But none of them call for a parent to say, “I’ve had enough, and I’m losing my temper, so you need a time out.”

Because really, in that situation, I’m the one who needs the time out.

So I take one. “Mommy needs a time out,” I tell Teresa, and if I can, I go to my room and close the door for a few minutes, until I’m ready to be rational again.

Oddly, “Mommy time outs” seem to have as much or more of an effect on Teresa’s behavior as her own time outs. When I open the door to come out, or to let her in, she’s usually standing just outside, asking if I feel better, ready to offer comfort. Most times that I need a time out don’t involve serious misbehavior on her part — no kicking or hitting or throwing things. Usually it’s more of a case of a 4-year-old acting exactly her age, finding a way to push every button she can find, both actual and metaphorical. There’s a reason it’s not taken as a compliment when you say someone is being childish.

Removing myself from the situation makes the point that sometimes you need to give people a break and consider their need, including the need to spend a few minutes without hearing “Let It Go” or tripping over the tiger trap made of a plastic tennis racket and a purple jump rope, in the middle of the kitchen while you’re trying to clean up dinner.

Teresa loses her temper, too, of course, and she gets her own time outs when fussing turns to tantrums or toys start to fly. Toys that are thrown get taken away. Time outs are generally two minutes, sitting or lying down where I can see her — the length of a minor hockey penalty — and are explained as a chance to simply calm down and prepare to move on.

The Book of Proverbs has the verse that is often paraphrased as “spare the rod and spoil the child,” but I think that means that parents must teach their children, not beat them. Study after study makes clear that the only thing children learn from being spanked is that hitting is how you deal with behavior you don’t like. I’d much rather deal with it by stepping back, taking a breath and starting over.


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