Timeouts are a Good Thing

On the last day of vacation I was walking toward the lobby for my continental breakfast (can’t stay at a hotel without continental breakfast, even if the pastries are sweaty). I could hear a child wailing but couldn’t see her – it was as if the hedges were being tortured. As I got closer I saw her on a bench outside the lobby yelling “MOOOOOOMMY!”

I wasn’t concerned for this child because it was clearly a fake cry – you could even say half-hearted – and I realized she was probably having a timeout. As I opened the door to the lobby I saw Mom standing right there inside the window watching her.

A glance around the room showed that dad and their three older kids were sitting at the table having a lovely breakfast, all chatting away and engaged with each other (even the teenage daughter). Clearly these parents knew what they were doing.

But the looks and whispers from the other people in the lobby made it seem like someone should call social services. “That’s just awful.” (Shakes her head.) “Terrible.” Why were all these people so quick to judge this mom just for giving her child a simple consequence? I’d rather judge all the people I saw this week letting their kids run rampant, or causing ugly scenes with their over-the-top screaming “discipline.”

And what about mom having to interrupt her breakfast and stand up eating her bowl of cereal? No one is annoyed at the child for acting out and making the mother sacrifice a nice meal.

Wait, I’m sure they were annoyed at the child before the timeout, and then they were just annoyed at the mom. So maybe it was a lose-lose to begin with. OK forget it, everybody just keep your kids indoors until they’re 12.

I also noticed that the family was French Canadian. Of course the list of cultural differences is long anyway, but it got me wondering if Canadian parents get better advice than we do.

A cursory review of Canadian mommy blogs reveals that they actually get much of the same. Similar debates over whether or not to allow toy guns, lots of talk about equal-partner parenting. Their sports stories are the same, except they have hockey instead of baseball.

Still, while looking at these websites, so much of current advice out there feels way too touchy-feely to me. The newest thing I found is that apparently, instead of having a timeout we have a “time-in,” where we cuddle and love the child until they calm down.

I read one mother’s story of Janie knocking down Sissy’s fort, and Sissy being so upset. But mom saw that Janie was the one who acted out and needed to calm down, so she spent a time-in with her.

Meanwhile, Sissy’s fort is destroyed AND Janie’s getting a nice little loving hug and all the attention from mom. What’s WRONG with this picture? Since when do we reward the perpetrator? (“Well Sissy, your fort should have known that it was not a legitimate attack so it shouldn’t have fallen down.” Sorry – couldn’t resist.)

I feel like a crotchety old lady when I harp on discipline (kids these days!!) but really, I am disappointed in our lack of skills when it comes to teaching good behavior. We have an aversion to being firm and clear with our kids and having expectations for common decency.

I’m completely against spanking, shaming, and punitive measures, but I’m also against talking, bargaining, and letting a child negotiate their way out of a situation. Middle ground: a simple consequence but uncomfortable nonetheless, get it over with and move on. Parents in charge of children. Very easy. Much easier than we make it out to be.

The result is kids who respect boundaries and know what we expect of them. They feel comfortable and safe when they have this guidance. They need it so much, but we are afraid to set the rules. Why have we gone so soft?

I view the lobby incident as a mother of four, older and wise, who knew how to handle herself and her child. I admired her ability to do what she needed to for her child and ignore the dirty looks of the McJudgersons. I just wish I had said something supportive to her in that first moment, when she was enduring the screams of her child while trying to catch the milk drips from the cereal bowl on the lobby floor.

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2 thoughts on “Timeouts are a Good Thing

  1. Yes! There must be consequences! Where I work, and currently, apparently, I am supposed to distract an entitled five year old from beating his buddy because he wants the red shovel. Or, distract another from leaping off the top of a 8 foot high climbing structure. Remove them, give them a consequence, no more sandbox or climber for you danger boy! Everything in me knows there must be consequences for bad or, yes, dangerous behavior….but the EEC has taken consequences off the table.

    • Karen, I learned so much of what I know from you, especially about limits and boundaries!! It scares me that your ability to PROTECT children is being limited. That’s not right.

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