Parenting: Why timeouts with our kids don't work

Some are outright, some are subtle, but all of them have one underlying theme: shame

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By Kavita Srinivasan

Published: Thu 10 Nov 2022, 9:09 PM

“I want you to think about what you have done.”

“Sit in the corner and calm down for a while.”

“Go to the silent corner and be quiet for some time.”

“Wash your mouth because you used a bad word.”

“Wash your hands because you hit someone.”

These are all time-outs. They address what the child has done, not who the child really is. Some are outright, some are subtle, but all of them have one underlying theme: shame.

Children’s behaviour is NOT an indication of who they are. The behaviour is symptomatic of a deeper feeling and an emotional need that is not being met.

We need to change the way we respond to a child ‘misbehaving’. Through their behaviour, children are clearly telling us they need something they are not being given. When we see a child hitting, screaming, causing trouble, instead of labeling them ‘difficult’ or ‘bad’, say this: they need help, they need attention, they need care. What they do NOT need is to be alienated and made to sit in a corner. That is the OPPOSITE of what they need.

What they need is presence.

Adult: “You hit your friend. It is not okay to hit. You are having some big feelings right now. You are a good kid. I am here with you. Let us do some deep breaths to help Mr. Angry.”

This is a time in. This is helping children slowly build a skill set to help their feelings and regulate themselves.

Adult: “Where do you feel Mr. Angry in your body? Put your hand there and let us speak to him. Can we breathe in to cool Mr. Angry?”

Children learn how to regulate themselves through the way we regulate ourselves. What is their behaviour bringing up in you? What big feelings are you experiencing when they ‘disobey’ and ‘act out’? Do you get angry? Do you lose your cool? If so, why? Be present with your feelings and soothe yourself before you help a child.

Here is the plain and simple fact: We are feeling beings before we are thinking ones. We are first right brain and then left. That is how we develop. Connect with the feelings of a child through the right brain and then teach them how to regulate their feelings. Their thinking brain has not even completely developed yet. The pre-frontal cortex, responsible for logic and organisation and thinking, i.e., the adult part of the brain, finishes developing at 25. It takes time.

When we ask children to ‘think about what they have done’ we are asking them to do something they are neurologically incapable of. They do not have that part of the brain. It is literally like asking a whale to walk on land. A whale cannot. He doesn’t have the anatomy that lets him.

Always ask yourself: are you shaming the child or helping him/her/them?

All children are good. Show them that their behaviour says nothing about who they are. Their behaviour is only a message for us to wake up to an underlying need that is not being addressed. They need love. They need presence. They need to feel safe. A time out is the opposite of all that.

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