Why We Stopped Using Time Outs
There is also an element of trust in that I do have to sometimes watch my kids make bad choices or act in ways I don’t like and trust that my values are still coming through to them and they’re going to turn out to be pretty good people. I mean, all parents have to do that no matter what parenting style they employ, but in not using punishments or rewards, you do give up some control of the day-to-day and minute-by-minute behavior, or I think Alfie Kohn would probably say illusion of control.
The funny thing is, though, giving up on the idea that I have to control every little thing they do makes me a calmer person, and becoming a calmer person makes me a better role model and a more effective parent. I actually feel even less of a need to control them because they are more willing to follow my lead without being coerced (by either punishments or “positive reinforcements”) to do so. The more I move away from coercive parenting, the more positive changes I see in my two boys, so it’s less and less a leap of faith as I begin to see the real tangible benefits of trusting them, teaching them, and working together with them instead of trying to make them do what I want them to do.
I’ve leave you with a recent example of how I handle “misbehavior” without punishment. So recent, in fact, it was just last night. At the end of the long day when we were all tired and cranky, Miles wanted to eat a third bowl of post-dinner cereal. Since it was getting close to bedtime and since he hadn’t finished the bowl I’d given him a half hour earlier, I said no, but he could have a cup of almond milk, which I gave him. He got upset and angry and banged his glass, which I told him he shouldn’t do. He got angrier and poured his milk on the floor. I acknowledged that he was very upset and calmly but firmly told him he would need to clean up the milk. Truthfully I doubted he would since he was so angry, but I continued to calmly prompt him to clean it, keeping a bit of distance so he wouldn’t feel physically intimidated.
And then he picked up a napkin and, still angry, started cleaning up the milk. I then joined in and helped him. When it was cleaned up, he was calm enough to sit in my lap and continue to cry. I held him and just let him know that I was listening. Some people would see this as “reinforcing bad behavior,” but I know that he did not WANT to get angry and cry and make a big mess, he was just overwhelmed by his feelings. He didn’t get “his way.” I still maintained my firm limit that it was too late to have another bowl of cereal, but I didn’t punish him for having an angry reaction to that. An angry kid needs my love just as much as a sad kid does, so I gave him that.
It’s not always easy to dig deep and pour love into a child who is provoking you, but when I can do that, I always feel so much better, and the kids do too.