Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Time Out Needs a Time Out

I put Time Out into a permanent time out roughly 9 months ago.  It was, without a doubt, one of THE BEST DECISIONS I have made for my program.

I had the realization that time out was causing my crew of 2-6 year olds to fear making a mistake. I had taught them that the certain doom of time-out loomed in the shadow of most social failings.  (hitting, throwing, pinching, spitting etc.)

Time out had become a punishment that resulted in many natural consequences.  Time out trampled down a child's self esteem,  instilled a fear of failure and had become a punishment that had a success rate of zero.

Time out had become negative and over-used.  Something had to change.

Instead of putting children in time out, I decided to put TIME OUT in time out.  PERMANENTLY.

How did I do this?  Didn't the children go wild with misbehavior?!  Didn't I lose ALL CONTROL of the children?

It was simple.  I stopped saying "Go to time out".  I stopped silently pointing to the "time out spot" (please tell me you have been to the point where you simply have no words, you just point).  I just STOPPED.

When situations arose that required some sort of action, I replaced the words "Go to time out" with the natural consequence of playing by oneself.   I began saying things along the lines of:  "Uh oh.  I see you are not ready to play with your friends.  When you choose to (hit a friend...or whatever the case may be) it tells me you just might need some space to yourself.  Go ahead and choose what you'd like to play with, and lets find you a quite place where you can play and your friends can be safe."  Once we get settled, I tell the child: "You decide when you are ready to be with your friends again.  When you are ready, come on back and join us."  When the child is ready to play with us again, I remind them "If you ever want some space, and feel you would like to play by yourself again, you can just grab what you'd like to play with and find a space for you.  If you need any help, you know you can ask anytime."

Here's how those seemingly simple words have benefitted the children in my program:

1)  Those words build chidren up by supporting their need to have some space.  I firmly believe children make mistakes when they are tired, aren't feeling well or just need S P A  C  E.  As an adult, I often feel like that, but I have the skills to handle those feelings.  Young children do not.  Giving them the gift of space, and time to themselves can help a child learn what they need when being around people becomes challenging.
2)  Those words give ownership of feelings to the child.  "You decide when you are ready..." 
3)  Those words, in a hands-on way, gives a child the opportunity to experience playing with others, and playing by themselves.  From those two experiences, they can learn which one they prefer.  They will be able to FEEL the difference.  Some children greatly dislike being alone, while others will quickly learn playing by themselves is something they need and will request it (with words, instead of actions) in the future. 
4)  Those words serve as a reminder of expectations.  Some children simply lack self control.  The time playing alone serves as a reminder that hitting a friend results in no friends.  Some children need this reminder repeatedly, to no fault of their own, they are just not capable of that control yet.  Serving them with a natural consequence vs the punishment of "go to time out" treats the child with respect, yet still sends the message loud and clear that hitting is not okay.
5)  Those words empower young children.  They validate feelings and emotions and helps the child understand that the emotions they are experiencing are okay.  Giving a child the gift of space lets them experience an okay way to handle those emotions, without negatively shaming them.  Those words give children the tools they need to handle those situations in the future.  It helps them know that sometimes, we just need space and that is OKAY.
6)  Those words are truly the natural consequence of social errors.  If you hit people, do they want to be by you?  If you always take toys away from someone, do they want to play with you?  In time, no, they do not.  The natural consequence to most social misteps is playing by oneself.
7)  Those words give children an opportunity to look within for entertainment.  I firmly believe in our instant gratification world, and over-scheduled lives, there is little time for a child to be alone and entertain themselves.

I can hear the nay-sayers already.  "But Denita, listen to yourself, this IS  a "time out". 

My response to those people:  There comes a time when the safety of other children depends on the removal of another.  One has two choices:  this can be accomplished through the punishment of an empty, meaningless and demeaning time-out, or, in my opinion, this can be accomplished through the natural consequence of playing by oneself for a while.  Truth of the matter is, if the child continues to hit friends as they grow older, they are going to be playing by themselves anyway, as no one will want to play with them.  Thus, the natural consequence of hitting, is not playing with friends (again, my opinion).

The other important difference is, in my program, time out was a time away doing absolutely nothing.  Just sit and "think" with your head on the table.  That has "SHAME" written all over it.  Children are constantly learning and growing.  They are PRACTICING, they will make mistakes.  These moments should not be a time to shame, but should be a time to empower and give tools, while still sending the message that "hitting" (or whatever) is NOT okay.  It's a time to show them what will happen naturally if they continue to hit their friends.

Natural consequence or punishment? Which is more effective on young children?

In my experience, after 9 months of no "time outs", very few children in my program receive the natural consequence of playing alone.  Interestingly, I have observed a HUGE increase in boys and girls who enjoy playing by themselves by CHOICE, and are not afraid to choose to do so.  Through trial and error, we all have learned to respect the wishes of our friends who have requested to play by themselves.  We have learned it's OKAY if a friend doesn't want to play with us right now.  These are hard concepts for young children to understand, so it has been a rewarding journey.

I have also observed more children standing up for themselves and walking away from a child who has chosen to be mean.  There it is, the natural consequence happening just as it should...naturally.

In comparison, time out had become completely ineffective, and felt just plain wrong.  It had been overused (the fault of me) and had truly become useless.  Children were proud to yell at a friend "you're going to have to go to timeout!".  It had just gone very very bad. Stopping "time out" zapped the problems almost instantly.

So then...what about non-social mistakes?  What if a child is mistreating a toy?  Does it work the same?  Absolutely.  In this case, the child isn't the one that gets removed, the toy is.  I usually will say something along the lines of "Uh oh.  Drats.  I know you really like that toy, but right now, it looks like you forgot how to be kind to my things.  I guess you won't be able to play with that for a while.  You let me know when you would like to try it again."  I then put the toy back on the shelf for someone else to play with, or, place it in my closet (yes, I admit...this choice has to do with my frame of mind, and the severity of the crime :/ ...hey, I'm only human after all!!)

What about constant running indoors to the point that other children are not safe, nor is the runner?  Do I remove them to play alone?  Nope, I simply "take their feet away".  (yes, you read correctly).  If your feet continue to run, the natural thing to do is remove them! (for those of you getting ready to dial social services on me...put the phone down)  The child who is running is just not allowed to use their feet for a while, until (you guessed it) they are ready to try it again and see if they can remember to walk.  One cannot run while on their knees! (to clarify:  children may STILL play and do as they wish...they just may not use their feet.  A child doesn't skip a beat at this request, they instantly resort to crawling and playing on their knees...which, SLOWS them down!)

I encourage you to put Time Out in a time out at your programs, or at home.  If your results are anything like mine, it will be a decision you won't regret!