Developmental Discipline: Time out or no time out?
In order to give a child an effective action-consequence experience, often called time-outs or safe-chairs, an adult needs to consider the child’s developmental level of thinking and processing. A two-year-old child is probably not going to benefit from a time-out longer than 1 minute because they will not understand the cause and effect reasoning because they are extremely egocentric and are still melding that others have feelings and perspectives in the world. We, in Western culture, raise children to think about themselves from a individualistic perspective for the first year that the second year of life is challening because they are then asked to consider other people’s perspectives. Many psychologists recommend children “taking a break” or “getting some space” from an environment that is challening the child or possibly adult–often the adult reads child’s cues and undersirable but the child is looking for space and does not know how to communicate such needs. Furthermore, if a child is three-years-old, many teachers recommend removing them from the environment only after the child looks at the situation and is not forced to say “Sorry” but rather consider another perspective and then be removed until the child can “show” that they can play, behave, act, etc. appropriately and within limits. If a child is asked to not do something and then they do it then an adult needs to consider telling the child what they can do. This situation will often reflect the child’s individual processing skills and an adult should modify the situation appropriately.
Children need consistency, schedules and routines. If you make it a routine for them to find comfort alone and with books then they won’t look at it like a consequence or punishment. However, you need to make sure it also isn’t a reward for a child’s non-desirable behavior. A professor of mine once said that consequences need to match behavior or the child will not learn. If a child hits and is then spanked as a consequence the child is taught in fear and will not learn to keep their hands to themselves, but perhaps keep hitting and spanking. If a child is going to hurt someone or themself an adult can physically remove the child because the situation is extreme. Some children learn how to calm down with small motor meditation movements (linking middle finger to thumb and chanting ‘Om’) but again this takes repetitive practice, almost like Pavlov’s dog experiment. When a child is acting too excited, model for them how to calm down, and then give them reinforcement (verbal or physical ‘high five’, smile, wink) and then continue in the situation. A child should not be set-up to get disciplined, for example, being in a small room with many other non-verbal children, inconsistency in loving relationships, lack of verbal skills, etc. Depending on the child’s coping skills they may not need an adult to model how to calm down, but often at school children need help calming down.