Before (OK, and even after, on occasion) I started teaching parenting classes, disciplining my children was not my strongest skill. Lack of good examples, stress and fatigue all tarnished my thought processes at times making sensible actions a challenge.
I think many of us have had those moments where we felt like a Looney Tune with steam coming out our ears. We may yell, we may run away or we may make an “empty threat,” just to try to make the situation or child go away. None are very effective approaches to changing their behaviors.
Many folks think of a “time out” as a punishment (when really it should be just for giving you and your child breathing room to sort through feelings and what is actually going on at that moment!). That’s a step in the right direction sometimes, but its use and reason for one need to be better understood to make it most effective.
Generally speaking, this method is best used when feelings are raw and energy is high. This is another reason why this is called a “cooling off period.” It gives the child a time to collect himself and to think about what he really needs and is feeling. The key is, sit your child down when they are young and talk about this process.
First things first: At a time when you are both feeling good (this could be after you’ve already had an “episode” with them), discuss how sometimes it is hard to talk clearly and make our needs known when we are yelling and breaking rules and all other manner of naughtiness. Decide now where that timeout space —whether in their room with their comfortable surroundings, a soft chair in the living room or some other such calming place — is to be.
Like I said, some people think of time out as a punishment — “Send them to their ‘happy place’! Are you nuts! I want them to think about what they’ve done (and feel even worse than they do now?)”
Let me ask you: Have you ever been so angry at your boss or someone who’s crossed you in some way, that if you don’t take a moment to step away and calm down, you blurt out even more inflammatory comments that you’ll later regret?
Consider: Children don’t have the negotiating skills that we as adults develop through our lifetime. Many may not even have words for the emotions they are feeling or have any idea how to appropriately get what they need. The most basic step is to breathe and count to 10, right? Teach them that. If it doesn’t help, time out.
How long? Let the child decide. Let them know at that early planning time with them that it will be up to them to decide when they are feeling better able to express themselves. Often as not, my boys would start playing and feeling calmer. I might go in to check on them and then calmly discuss what the problem was, tell them (CALMLY) without accusing or blaming, how what they said or did made me feel (“I felt really hurt when you called me those names; I realize you must be feeling hurt too; The last thing I want is to hurt you; Can you tell me now what happened and how you and I can fix that?”).
Some of my favorite resources on parenting are by Dr. Jane Nelson. Check out her website at http://www .positivediscipline.com/.
Most importantly: Don’t forget to breathe! It’s a place to start.