Toddlers and tantrums are synonymous for many in Western culture, but to add to that, so is timeout – particularly the kind used as a punishment. You know, the one where you have the kid sit in the corner for a minute of his age, such as two minutes for a two year old.
Way back, years ago, while I was still “trying out” attachment parenting, I tried doing these type of timeouts for a time. What a waste of my time! I think it was more of punishment for the parent. It took so much time to put a kid in timeout and then to keep her there, and a toddler doesn’t really understand the concept anyway. After I learned about attachment parenting, I also learned that toddlers are just learning what “no” means and that complicated systems of discipline just don’t work because this age group doesn’t understand that yet.
Not that I think timeout would well at any age. Not that type of timeout anyway.
As my kids got older, I do use a type of timeout, but it’s not for punishment. It’s for giving a child time to calm down. They can take the timeout wherever they want to; they can be with me or their toys or calm down however they want to, without it being injurious or destructive. It’s just a time for getting emotions back in check when tension runs high. Not a punishment.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe punitive timeouts came about as a way to get a toddler to “just be quiet and do as told.” And that the child is not supposed to get out of timeout until they’ve been quiet for so long, so they’re in essence learning that to stay on their parents’ good side, they need to shut down their expression of upset feelings, which in turn shuts down their feelings.
This isn’t healthy. This turns into adults who can’t communicate with their spouses or their children or their bosses. This turns into adults who battle with depression and anxiety or who turn to unhealthy behaviors, obsessions, and addictions to deal with their unheard feelings.
What is healthy is to validate your child’s upset feelings, but to also allow your child to express them. Go ahead and let them yell. This is why I like non-punitive timeouts – it’s a time for a child to express his feelings, but it gives him a designated spot to do so. Someplace comforting for him. Someplace out of the way of other family members, if they’re not part of the calming down process. My kids may not like it that it’s bedtime, and that’s OK but they still have to go to bed. It’s good that they’re expressing themselves if they’re upset. It’s not so good if they’re hitting each other or throwing their toys – this should be discouraged, but they should be allowed a healthy way to express their upset feelings. And they should be allowed to calm down in healthy ways, with the help of their mother, and to learn how to express themselves and to collect their emotions again without hurting others or themselves, whether physically or emotionally.