When it comes to disciplining young children, time out is out. Early childhood experts now say that time outs can actually lead to more behavior problems instead of less. Time outs don't teach children the skills for how to control their own behavior and resolve conflicts effectively. It's simply a form a punishment without a learning opportunity. The experts say this is one of the major problems with the old time out method.
“Time-out does not address the root causes of behavior problems and does not teach children useful conflict resolution skills,” says Aletha Solter, Ph.D., director of the Aware Parenting Institute. “Furthermore, children experience time-out as a form of punishment rather than a learning experience. Forced isolation can weaken the parent-child bond and cause children to feel anxious, insecure, and angry. These feelings can lead to more behavior problems later on, so the use of time-out is actually counter-productive. “
So what is a parent to do? How can you help your child manage your child's acting out without the use of time out? Try some of the suggestions below for a more positive method of discipline.
Behavior is Bad
- By separating the bad behavior from the child himself, you allow them the opportunity to change it. Saying “you are a bad boy” is very different from “your behavior was bad”. If both the child and the parent recognize that the behavior is problematic and not the child, you'll be able to make it easier for him to identify what he did wrong for the future.
- Let your child know that he can choose and change his behavior. Saying “you are a bad boy” is a direct attack on your child’s character and he may not feel he can change it. Instead, make it clear to him that he's in control of his actions, and that it's within his power to make the right decisions.
- Many young children simply do not have the vocabulary to express their feelings. Teach your child “feeling” words such as disappointed, angry, frustrated and lonely by using them in context when you are in situations in which you have those feelings. This will give him a good point of reference for his own feelings and better help him to identify them when he's in tough situations.
- Ask your librarian to help you identify books that talk about feelings and read them to your child. Follow the story with a discussion of times when he may have felt the same feeling. Providing your child with examples of different kinds of feelings - good or bad - will help him to distinguish between his feelings and understand that others sometimes feel the same.
Focus on Solutions
- Rather than asking why your child performed a behavior, focus on how he could resolve the issue next time. For example “why did you hit your brother?” may not get you very far. Instead ask, “What can you do instead of hitting if your brother takes your truck?”
- Role playing solutions to problem behaviors helps children practice at a time when they are not angry. This will give him time to think about how he might act differently next time while he's not in the middle of a situation, and allow him to think it through more clearly to reference for the future.
Play it Cool
- Replace your time out chair with a comfy place to cool off. This may be a bean bag chair or a comfy chair with a favorite blanket, stuffed animal or books.
- If he's angry, explain that when his body is relaxed, his voice is quiet and his arms and feet are not hurting others, he will be ready to come back and join the family.
Allow him to determine when he is ready to come back by observing the changes in his body.
- Like it or not, children are often much like their parents! And it's important to remember that one of the biggest ways that young children learn and make connections is through modeling and emulation. Look at your own behavior to see if you are modeling the behavior you don’t like. How are you treating your child, other members of the family or friends and strangers?
- Be sure you model kindness, patience and self-control if you would like your child to do the same. Children will pay much more attention to what you do than what you say.
Discipline can be one of the biggest challenges of parenting preschoolers. Remember, your young child is just learning how to appropriately behave in the world. It's your job as a parent to teach him how to control his temper, express his feelings and even apologize when he is wrong. In short, teach him the skills he needs to work through tough situations proactively, rather than simply punishing him blindly for behavior he might not understand.
If you've ever met an adult who didn't learn these lessons in childhood, you know they're not much fun to be around! Although it takes more time and effort, positive discipline will pay off as your child enters the world with skills in resolving conflicts, expressing his feelings and being in control when things don’t go his way. More importantly, you'll be setting the foundation for good social skills and problem solving for his years to come.