I’ve never really liked the idea of the naughty step. It’s always kind of seemed to me like banishing a child for having emotions. Sometimes, though, removal from a situation isn’t a bad lesson to learn; in the adult world certain behaviours will actually get you banished from places. Some behaviours will get you segregated from the rest of the world for a long time, some will just get you chucked out of the pub. Either way, banishment is a real consequence for real actions in the real world. Probably a bit harsh for a 3-year-old, though, at least in its purest form.
Time out is different. Time out offers everyone a chance to cool down and collect themselves. Time out allows the child to return once they feel they are ready (within reason). Time out is something that a lot of adults use, and a lot more adults should. Imagine how many incidents, arguments, and physical fist fights wouldn’t happen if everyone involved left the room and counted to 5?! I’m not saying I’ve found the answer to world peace, but it’s not a bad shout either way!
There has to be a distinction between behaviour and emotion, too. So a 2-year-old screaming blue murder and pounding the ground with their fists because they’re not allowed another biscuit is emotional, not misbehaving. A 4-year-old who knows it’s not ok to push their sibling to the ground but does it anyway is misbehaving because of an emotion. The 2-year-old hasn’t learned yet how to manage their feelings and display them appropriately, so the tantrum is an opportunity to learn, not punish. The 4-year-old knows what they did wasn’t ok, but at that point in time for whatever reason, lost control of their emotions. It happens.
Sometimes, in order to restrain myself from yelling, I need a time out. So I walk into another room. I usually put my head in my hands, and I might have a little “for fuck’s sake” under my breath. On a really bad day I go as far away as possible, shut as many doors as possible, and I scream it out! I’m pretty sure that rather than saying I’m misbehaving when I do that, most people would agree that actually I’m doing the right thing. So why is it different for kids?!
It’s perfectly acceptable to cry, even to have a scream and a shout. It’s our job to teach our kids when and where it’s acceptable to do those things, though. That’s where time out comes in. Time out is a positive tool for learning how to manage emotions, not a punishment.
“Right, that’s it. You’re on a time out! Go and sit in the time out area right now!”
“I think you need to take some time out to calm down and think about what’s making you feel like this. When you’re ready to talk, call me and I’ll come sit with you.”
Having an area to sit isn’t about creating a segregated place away from everyone else, but about knowing there’s a safe place to go and work through your emotions. Having an area also means you can make sure that there are some useful items there to help your kid calm down. Things like a book, some sensory items, maybe something to help them work out how they’re feeling like emotion cards.
This is something we have only just started doing at home, but from day 1 it has worked. I was told once that your first kid is like the trial one, and you always learn everything just a touch too late. But by the second one you’ve got a bit of a head’s up, and if you have any more after that you’re laughing! I wonder in 2 years time how starting this now will impact the way Wills handles his emotions. I’ll report back with a comparison if you can wait that long!
How do you handle emotions with your kids? I love hearing about everyone’s different approaches, after all none of us are perfect!