I don't use "Time Out" for little children at all.
Actually, it reminds me of ostracizing,
and (if done with anger or annoyment in the adult's voice) may come across to the child as a type of bullying.
[I don't like the way you're acting, so you can't be part of our group.]
"Time Out" is no longer in my vocabulary, and I cringe whenever I hear an adult ask a child, "Do you want a time out?"
or threaten, "You'd better stop it or you're getting a time out!"
In my interactions with children, "time out" has become obsolete, based on my belief that all behavior is communication.
If a child is "misbehaving," I have found that either the child doesn't understand why he/she shouldn't be doing whatever it is he/she is doing, or the child is telling us something through the behavior.
I want your attention,
I love to jump off of high places,
I don't want this toy,
I love throwing things,
I want to show you I can throw this ball really far,
I'm angry with you,
When I pinch you you look at me--and I want you to look at me,
I feel frustrated,
Your Behavior Is Telling Me You're Out of Sorts
(And Mommy Can't Handle It Right Now)
I do have an alternate method to time out that I use only when absolutely necessary.
As soon as my youngest son could understand the command "go lie down," I began using this method.
Now my son is nine, and I usually use it when I (myself) need a break from a bout of rudeness that he's having, and feel that I don't have the amount of patience necessary to try to find out why he's doing what he's doing (or what thoughts or feelings he's really trying to communicate).
He knows the drill and it works every time.
I say, "You're acting cranky...you must be tired, and if you're tired you need to rest, so go lie down until you aren't cranky any more."
That way, he's in charge of how long he stays on his bed, or on the couch, or anywhere else he decides to go to rest. That way I don't have to be the time-keeper.
When he comes out of his bedroom (or off the couch) I ask,
"Do you feel better?" and he answers, "Yes."
Then I say, "Good, because it hurts my feelings when you are cranky and speak rudely to me.
I love you.
I want to speak nicely to you and I want you to speak nicely to me. Deal?"
Then he answers, "Deal", we hug each other and go on with our day.
(Note: If I say, "You're acting cranky...you must be tired" and he replies that he's NOT tired, then I say, "Then stop acting tired and cranky" and he stops.)
At school a student could be told something similar. "You are acting like you're out of sorts or tired. Please go sit down and relax."
"When you feel better come back to the activity, because we really like it when you join us at circle time."
A Place For Contemplation
Another alternative, which doesn't feel as much like punishment as "time out" does, is the "thinking chair."
My older son's preschool teacher had a chair labeled with a sign that said: THINKING.
She would ask children to go sit in the thinking chair to think about something they had done which was against the class rules, and to think of something nice that they could do instead.
She told me that many times during the day she would find children sitting in the chair voluntarily. When she would ask them why, they would respond, "I'm thinking".
What About "Time In?"
I'm beginning to think that "Time In" might be the best idea of all.
Time IN could stand for Time Investment.
If you believe, as I do, that ALL BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION, and you want to avoid increasing a child's behaviors that are irritating to you, you must invest TIME.
Time is necessary to find out what the child is communicating through the behavior.
However, that is only the first step.
You must invest a little more time working with the child, respectfully, to address that refusal, want or need (or his/her sharing of a thought or idea).
Instead of TIME INVESTMENT, perhaps, "Time In" could stand for taking the TIME to bring a child IN...
socially and emotionally closer; to care about why the child is having such a difficult time.
Both terms: TIME INVESTMENT and Taking TIME to bring a child IN focus on developing a stronger bond and a more communicative relationship with the child.
Both terms move away from the "Time Out" punishment or (removal of reinforcement) model.
I would love to hear an adult ask a child,
"Do you want a "time in?" and then see the adult scoop the child up in his/her arms and say, "You are so smart, and I'm so proud of you. Let's go play something fun!"
That would be an exciting sight to see!
What an important transformation in the adult/child interaction model... seeing punishment being replaced by positive affirmations and kindness.
I look forward to the day when "Time In" is in & "Time Out" is out.
Let's start practicing "Time In" every day and make it happen!
As always, I truly love my job!
Noelle Michaels, MA, CCC-SLP, LDT-C
Bilingual Speech Language Pathologist
Special Educator & Learning Specialist