Mindful Mama Mentor

Guest Post: Re-thinking Time Out
August 12, 2015

Hunter here. Please enjoy this guest-post by Andra Brill!

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Have you ever stopped to think what you are hoping your children are learning from you?

I mean, at the end of the day, when they are grown ups in the world, what do you want them to say about you as a parent?

And more importantly, who do you want them to be in the world?

If you ask my 6 year old what my job is as her mother she will tell you that it’s to love her and keep her safe. What she doesn’t say is that I see my role as one of inspiration and containment.

As her mother I want to inspire my daughter to make choices that feel good to her and to those around her. I want her to be kind and curious in the world. And I want her to feel secure in her sweet, spunky authentic self.

I also want her to make good choices and stay safe. Particularly when I’m not around. I want her to grow up to be someone who can be trusted to do the right thing in any given moment, even when it’s not the easy thing to do.

As I write this, I am wondering how we model what it means to be a calm and compassionate human being for our children.

When I was an education professor we would talk with new teachers about their toolkit, the strategies they had at their fingertips to manage a classroom. Now, as I work with parents see parents who only have a few tools in their toolkit. I’m thinking about the parents who use time out on a daily basis, star charts, bribes and threats to get their children to be “well-behaved.”

Here’s the thing. These techniques work. In the short term. Sometimes. And sometimes these techniques are exactly the ones to use. But only in the context of a deep and diverse toolkit.

There’s a reason that parenting with punishments and rewards is so wide spread. On the surface, it looks good. It makes a parent feel like she is in control of the situation.

Let’s talk a bit about what the long-term lessons are from time out. I would argue that time out works really well when training animals. And that it may be useful in a classroom full of children. But time out is not a helpful parenting technique if what you are hoping for at the end of the day is a child who is connected and emotionally competent.

First of all, how can we ask a child to make amends and reconnect when he is in time out? The message we are sending is “your behavior is so bad that we don’t want anything to do with you.”

However, if you decide to sit down with your kid in time out, it’s a completely different message. It’s a message of “wow, you made a poor choice, a mistake, let me help you get yourself back together so that we can move on and continue what we were doing.” And it’s a message that our connection is stronger (and more important) than your bad choice.

You cannot teach someone to be kind by being mean. {Tweet this!}

Kids don’t learn what is appropriate when we act in ways that are unkind or unconnected. If we want our children to be aware of and sensitive to others’ feelings (a trait that is said to be a predictor of future success) we have to model what it looks like by being aware of their feelings and responding in ways that are gentle.

For example when my daughter hurts another person, I am quick to stop her from continuing to hurt them. I may remove her from the situation, to the other side of the room or the playground. I remind myself to take a deep breath. And then I ask her what happened. Regardless of what she says, I usually respond the same way. “I understand that you got mad. We don’t hit other people. Ever.” I wait for her to calm down. And, depending on the situation I ask if she wants to try again.

That’s it. Not that it’s always that easy, but in general I’ve learned that sometimes talking less is more powerful than making a big deal.

And because it’s important to me that my daughter feel connected I ALWAYS go back to the idea of connection before I say anything. Using the phrase “we don’t…” I’m actually telling her exactly what WE do expect in our interactions. Not only that, but in order to feel a part of the WE, she will need to choose to do things differently.

This may seem subtle, but think about it. It actually assumes that she wants to do what I’m asking her to do, that making good choices will feel good to her and will bring us closer together. It gives her the benefit of the doubt that as a kid, she’s just trying out how to be in the world. And it sends a message that I’m the adult. My job is to contain her behavior when it’s not appropriate and inspire her to make a different choice next time.

I believe that there is always an alternative to punishment. That our job as parents is to love our kids and keep them safe. That we can offer them consequences that are appropriate and make sense, rather than always responding with the same tools.

Hunter here again. What do you think? Are you looking for alternatives to time-outs? Start the conversation in the comments below!

Our ability to regulate our emotions enough to respond mindfully as Andra suggests comes when we practice. You can do it too in our next 14-day Mindfulness Retreat created specifically for busy mamas. Click HERE to sign up!

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Andra Brill, Ph.D. is a writer, speaker and innovator in the growing field of mindful parenting.  She is the Founder of Happy Mindful Families where she offers practical tools for raising happy, well-balanced children. Her work has been widely published, including in the Huffington Post and Positive Parenting Connection. In her spare timeAndra enjoys backpacking, impromptu dance parties in the kitchen and reading aloud with her husband and daughter.


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