How to Use Time-Out
The “time-out” has become a parenting staple in our culture. It is commonly used to give children a chance to think about their misbehavior in the hope that they will reflect on their actions and determine not to repeat them in the future. That’s the theory. In practice, however, the time-out amounts to little more than a punishment for bad behavior. It’s very similar to the old fashioned “dunce cap” routine.
It is certainly true that children need to learn self-control in general, and particularly in relation to expression of their anger – how to use their words instead of their hands or feet. They learn this best by watching their parents, who are always modeling for them.
It is also true that children need to learn right behavior, or how to behave properly. Parents know what proper behavior is for a child, and in the course of an ordinary day they find many occasions to tell their children what that is.
Questions about Time-Out
Influencing the Child to Change
How the Parent Influences the Child to Change
In a different article I described the dynamics of harmony in music as an example of why the parent must be the first to change when parent and child are in conflict, or discord. In another article, I explained why the parent — not the child — must be the one to change first in these conflictual situations.
This is a radical departure from normal parenting behavior (yelling, demanding, arguing) because it constitutes a “backing off” by the parent from the discord and conflict of the moment. Rather than giving a misbehaving or angry child a “time out” or a tongue lashing, the parent gets “in harmony” with the child’s upset feelings and desires at the moment not by getting angry or yelling, but by empathically moving into harmony with child by being aware that “there’s disharmony here.” Thus the parent elevates the interaction to a higher level by backing off from the war of wills through empathic attention. Then the parent takes the time-out to think things over and plan the next steps, and what s/he is going to do and say.
Now I want to describe the next steps a parent can take to influence the child to make a change.
Harmony in Music and Relationships
In music, two or more notes harmonize when the wave lengths of their respective vibrations are compatible and produce a pleasing sound. You do not have to be a musician or mathematician to know when they are discordant–they are not compatible, and they are not in harmony. They don’t sound good together. There’s nothing wrong with either note, of course. They are equally good and legitimate notes. They just don’t sound pleasing to the ear when played together. You could say they are “fighting” each other.
So too in a relationship. Two people who are not on compatible “wave lengths” could be said to be discordant, or fighting each other in some way. Add a third person who is not on the same “wave length” either, and you’ve got a real mess.
Discord in the Parent-Child Relationship