A time-out for time-outs

I’ve never really believed in or understood the ‘time-out’.

Y’know, the two minutes in the box for the toddler who hits, spits, kicks, tricks, takes and breaks.

But, having a 17-month-old, there’s times where discipline is necessary (or maybe it’s easier to categorize the times where discipline isn’t necessary). And, despite always thinking a spank never hurt a kid because it didn’t hurt me, I’ve never had the urge to whack a child I love so deeply on the pants to straighten them out.

So, that leaves me with the time-out, a mode my social service working wife believes in, because she sees the horror stories about abusive parents and what it does to kids.

The Boss uses it more than me, but not because she’s meaner, but because she’ll put up with less crap than me. But, I’ve sat The Hurricane down on the mat by the front door where she can pretend to cry while looking at herself in the full-length mirrors/closet doors a couple of times this week when asking and telling her to stop hitting (the latest craze) hasn’t worked.

But then I read this article by Kimberley Clayton Blaine, a child therapist, which explains that time-outs aren’t only ineffective on toddlers, but also harmful to their development.

A toddler’s developing brain cannot process and integrate the complex message of a time-out. Although I personally am opposed to using time-outs with children, unless it’s implemented in a loving and humane way; i.e., sitting with them to help them calm down, think about what they did, and to come up with a better solution. This is mentally impossible for a child under 2.5 years of age – especially alone.

And how are they supposed to know how to do it unless someone shows them? Toddlers are one-dimensional and depend on their parents to guide them through tough times and learning moments.

Huh.

Good points.

How are toddlers, and their developing brains, supposed to know that hitting is wrong, when they’ve only recently discovered the action, learned that it can be used to get things from the dog, Dad, or daycare playmate, and always encites a response?

They may not realize that it hurts or is wrong, because they can’t relate the actions to the emotions.

Now my baby’s smart – and it’s not just the blind love of a first time Dad talking. At 17 months she has a vocabulary well over 50 words, she learns new things quickly – this morning, after a fresh blanket of snow (the second this year), she looked out the window and said ‘No’, but meant ‘snow’, because her regular ‘no’ sounds differently, if that makes one iota of sense. Every day she does something a kid her age isn’t supposed to do.

She even tests us – doing things she 100% knows she’s not supposed to do just to see what sort of reaction she’ll get out of us. She’ll start to drop food from her high-chair for the dog, and only pull it back once we give her a warning.

And then smile.

And do it again with the next bite.

She’ll raise her hand above her head and wait to see if we say ‘don’t you dare’ before bringing it down into our face, while wearing a shit-eatin’ grin for good measure.

And then she’ll immediately lean in to kiss us better and say sorry, because that’s how she gets off the hook.

So, although she’s the cutest, smartest baby in the world, she’s no saint. In fact, the devil may be rubbing his hands and thinking he has a new leader on earth.

So what the hell do we do? If time-outs aren’t healthy for a child (and the article makes a good case, so go back and read it if you didn’t) and a tap on the bum will get Children’s Aid on your ass – even though I still think a spank is not the same as a beating – what are our options?

Because I have a hard time believing that sitting on the floor and trying to reason with a 17-month-old – do I bring pie graphs that depict what percentage of her behaviour is anger, misunderstanding, and learning, while showing her on a line chart how her actions effect her Mommy and Daddy’s moods in relation to the time of day? – is the answer.

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