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Children and "Time-Outs"
By Tracy Sherwood, Superphonics Founder 

My success does not come from mainstream training. I went to college years ago to become a credentialed teacher. Very early on I realized that our educational system does not provide the kind of training that I agreed with. I had been tutoring for some time before going to college and disagreed with far too much of the psychology-based teacher training I found myself studying. I knew from experience that it was almost, all wrong.

Having patience with students - which came mostly from experience, I recognized the psychology-based theories to be manipulative to say the least. It was apparent to me that these theories were designed to control the child's mind rather than stimulate it. As a very broad generality, these theories were seemingly developed by clinically minded individuals who had no real grasp of genuine communication. Text pages were filled with manipulative techniques that ultimately brought about the 'surrender' of self determinism and the reduction of intelligence.

Even the seemingly harmless "Time Out" technique offered by psychology- based teaching provides no real individual growth or good behavior that comes fully from the will.

The "Time Out" method is welcomed by parents who don't want to use corporal punishment on their children, and to this end, it provides a more rational alternative in which the parent can live with after all is said and done. Well, we do indeed want parents to be able to sleep at night and not grieve over how they have dealt with their children.

Let's look a bit deeper. What is our actual goal in using "Time out"?

1. We have something we can do about the behavior that gives us a bit of control in situations rather than losing our cool.

2. Is gives the child the opportunity to reflect on his behavior and to learn something from it.

3. It removes the child from the environment so that others do not have to have the bad behavior in their vicinity.

There are no other reasons for "Time Out". Any other reason will fall into one of the above categories.

Now before we evaluate each of the above with a little more depth, let's first take a look at our goals for our children in the long run.

Probably, our ultimate wish is that we want them to 'decide' to do right. Do we want them to decide to do right because of fear of consequences and punishment? Or, would we be feel more fulfilled in our parenting efforts if our children - as adults - 'decided' they wanted to do right because it was fulfilling to do right?

Doing what's right is only fulfilling because of the outcomes. When we find something of value that is not ours, and we find the rightful owner or turn it in where it might be found by the rightful owner, the outcome is that the rightful owner is happy to have it back. We imagine ourselves in their position and know we would be happy to have it back.

If someone is treating us badly and with disrespect, doing what would be ultimately right would be to communicate with that person and ask him, " What's up with that Davie? We can do this thing without putting each other down. I know we can. Now show me how you make this thing works again!"

You see there's a magic to good communication. We don't ignore thedis respect or bow to it in hopes it will go away. We don't fight back just for our own self preservation. And we don't degrade the offender in hopes to weaken his apparent strength or power, as there is really little strength or power there or he would not be having to make someone else wrong in order to be convinced of it.

We simply make him aware that this is not the goal of the moment or of the endeavor - then we get back to what we were doing with no residual hard feelings in the air. This allows the offender to take a look at the real goal of the moment or endeavor see, and to see that the offended is not taking it personally and is not out to bring him down at all. The offender can then feel a sense of security in the fact that he can now
change his attitude a bit without feeling as though he lost a battle or was forced to change it.

Self-will is the very foundation of every decision. When that is broken, it may seem as though we have a very compliant and well behaved child, but he is simply beaten. And when it has come to this point, he will have no drive to learn. His curiosity and interest level goes down with the loss of esteem. If he retains any thrust to survive at all, it will be evidenced by his efforts to weaken others and fight to be right. It's very difficult to try to teach such a child.

So there in the corner or on the chair, the child is undergoing another " Time Out". There was no real communication or helpful advice given prior to the "Time Out", for had there been, it would have been offered by someone who knew how to effectively communicate. Good Communication is very powerful. If one truly masters communication, he feels no need to include "Time Out" as part of the handling. Good
communication will handle the situation. If it doesn't, it either is not consistent enough or it is not good communication.

For years I've had parents tell me many things about handling their children. In regards to "Time Out" our conversations would often begin with how effective it has been compared to before. I acknowledge this fully and let them go on. I have genuine concern and interest in their views, feelings and never-ending need to feel ok about how they handle their children. They want only the best for their kids or they would not be sitting with me.

And as I listen, they begin to look even more deeply into it all. They have only just begun to talk to me. At in the end, in nearly every case, Mom is in tears with the realization that these "Time Outs" have in all honesty, been more for her own relief than for the benefit of her child. "But what else can I do?" she will ask through her tears.

Now let me tell you that these conversations almost never occur within our first 3 to 5 tutoring sessions. They usually begin on the phone with a discussion about academic progress. I, being a listener, tend to inspire open communication with parents - especially moms as they are most often the one to bring their children to me.

This phone conversation often leads to one-on-one talk at the tutoring table while Davie is out looking at the horses. Now I cannot solve her dilemma in one session. And to give her advice that she really has always known deep down inside but hasn't been able to stick with, is just making her feel more wrong. This is not the ideal result of our talk.

She does know the answer. I don't need to tell her the answer. She only needs to look at it again and realize that communication is the answer.

And she will. And she'll also realize that spending more time and handling her own life and environment a little better will take off pressure that she tends to take out on her child.

See, she knows these things. She doesn't need to be told them. But then it finally comes down to this: 'How?' I know I need more patience, to communicate better, to handle things that bring about pressure, but 'how' do I do this? If I knew how, I wouldn't have this problem. So 'how' do I learn patience, communication and to deal with the pressures?"

Now I can't help her telling her she's been a bad mother. Because she hasn't been a bad mother. But she will feel she has when she faces these things. And I don't need to contribute to that and make her defensive. So here we are, past the point of need for change, and ready for knowledge' and 'practice'. Like any art or skill in life that we study and practice to become very good at, these skills with our children require the same. There is an art to these things. And they do take practice once we learn the principles and logic of it all.

Our children are basically good people. They are not out to do harm. When their actions are not so good, then we have failed to 'learn' and 'practice' the art of communication which brings about patience. We have failed to take the time for our children and to push the world aside so that we can. When we don't do these things, our children suffer and fight to have their weight felt and to know who they are. Their perception of who they are is strongly influenced by our words and actions and our lack of words and actions. They need us.

And when we fail to give them this, our anger at ourselves lies hidden from us as we take it out on our children. It's a wrong target. When a child's insecurity strengthens, a thrust to survive takes over him. He experiences an angry and confused energy and is wrapped up into his confusions and upsets so, that he cannot focus on what we would wish him to. This too often brings about a psychiatric labeling of our child.

This child is trying to survive emotionally and in doing so can lose touch with intellect. His efforts to find out things, get questions answered, learn how to operate things like radios, ovens, and Dad's tools have done nothing but get him into trouble. Yet his will is very strong and when denied his natural urges to know about and to master life, he will fight for them because... they are not wrong. In fact, they are right. They are how we come to know what we know and learn to do all we can do.

It's ironic how we dream of our children one day, as adults, being good at everything and knowing as much as they can possibly know. This is our number one purpose as parents. Because we know that the more they know and the better they can control things that would be otherwise dangerous, the safer they will be and the more happy and fulfilled they will be. And the more they will have to offer their own children.

Yet, we don't want them to learn or experience these things until when...? When they are adults? Too much too learn then. It's too late. This is how we raise adults who cannot handle life. Who have frequent accidents and make frequent mistakes. Who forget to get the important things done. These are the adults who forever have their parents in their life telling them what to do and taking care of them.

When my first son was 6, a neighbor child came to my door to tell me that he was outside with another boy lighting matches in the wood pile up against the house.

Time for panic! Nope. That would be the wrong reaction. I could frighten him to the edge of death about matches and discipline him so that he would never consider it again. Maybe. But from my experience, it seems to be the children who receive the harshest and most frequent discipline that get into the never-ending trouble and so secretively. It's quite a vicious cycle isn't it?

There's also the undeniable truth that one has the most accidents in the areas he has not come to master, or at least become proficient in. We are more likely to get bitten by a snake when we lack knowledge and experience with snakes.

Does this mean I went out and taught my 6 year old how to light matches? I most certainly did. But there was an art to handling this you see. First of all, I had good communication already going with my son. He listened to me because he wanted to. He wanted to because I made listening to me a beneficial thing to do rather than an uncomfortable thing to do. And I consulted his views on things; I didn't just lecture him, I respected him.

So, I went out to the side of the house and watched him for a bit. He didn't jump when I showed up because he didn't know he was doing anything wrong. This situation had never come up. Also, he didn't feel he had to hide things from me because he knew that I wasn't a physical or emotional danger to him. I liked him.

Anyway, after I watched him 'drop' his first match because he would otherwise burn his fingers, I stepped in and offered a little information and instruction. First, I told him, "Jason, you know how sometimes people's houses catch on fire?" He looked at me as though I was out of my mind. He knew the connection I was trying to make but he couldn't see how this little flame could do such. He just looked at me waiting to see what I had to say. I said, "Well, here’s how they happen sometimes: When you light the match, the flame burns up toward your fingers. When it gets too close, it gets hot and you through it down, right?" He nods. Well, when the match lands, usually it goes right out. It depends upon if there's wind that blows it out, or sometimes, if your high up from the ground it blows out on its way down you know?" He's listening intently.

"Sometimes it's still burning when it hits the ground. If there's anything there that will burn easily, it can catch on fire. Some things won't burn at all like green grass, cement and water, you know? Some things burn so easily and so fast that you can't stop it. Like dry leaves, some kinds of paper, gasoline and lots of things really. You kind of have to get to know what things do and don't burn easily. This wood won't catch on fire fast, but if there's a few dry leaves like those right there, and they catch on fire, then the wood will start to burn from the fire from the leaves. Get it?" He's fascinated. He's not scared, but he's suddenly aware you see. He has some information that he can imagine with and think with. He has information that will nurture his common sense and provide future safety strategies. He couldn't think this clearly if he were afraid of punishment.

"So, do you want to learn how to light a match and hold it so that you don't burn your fingers? " Of course he does, so I show him and after just a few tries he's got it down. "All right, that's the first bit to mastering this skill; the rest is knowing when and where to light a match right?" He's listening intently. Ok, until you master all of this, and you will, make me a deal ok?"

"What?" he's agreeable. That you promise that if you ever want to practice lighting matches or a lighter or you want to make a little fire because it's so awesome, that you invite me. Because I am sort of a master at this and to be really safe, I want to be there and tell you some things I know about it. Ok?" He's beaming about this and of course it's not a whole day later that he wants his little match burning session and has it all planned out what he wants to burn see. First he gets some more tidbits on 'not in the house and why, not with other kids and why' etc.

We had a few of these sessions and once he mastered it the big adventure died out. The 4th of July brought on new adventures and called for even more tidbits of vital information, but he was so determined to master this and do it right. And he did. Never even a near problem. He was our '4th of July fire work lighter' almost every year except for the years he had to share the duty with other enthusiastic kids (like Dad).

So when we communicate for the purpose of helping, rather than instilling dread, our kids are open to learning from us and highly respect not only our views, but our honesty.

Otherwise, it doesn't take a child long to realize he cannot trust much of what we say and that there are far fewer dangers out there than we have warned against. Soon our voice will be an annoying broken record or a source of genuine travail for him. Because he doesn't trust our words, he doesn't learn about dangers and how to handle things. This puts him in far greater dangers.

There is absolutely no respect in "Time Out". We are not telling our children that we believe in their ability to use judgment when we employ "Time Out". We are telling him that he is an outcast and is unwanted.

"Time Outs" soon become a frequent habit for many parents. The slightest error or demonstration of will deserves this "Time Out" thing. The child does not think of what he has done during this period. He does not. When you asked him what he learned while in the "Time Out", he'll tell you what he thinks you want to hear and sound very convincing. But in the soul of this child, he is not growing in spirit, in knowledge, in development. He's only being trained, much like a dog told repetitively to "Stay" and only acknowledged if he does so.

So how does one learn to effectively communicate? He already knows how. One just has to have a little more faith in one's child. In his viewpoints, observations and considerations about situations. One simply begins to put attention to 'sharing' knowledge and experiences rather than attempting to impede or protect from them. To laugh at his jokes, listen to his little unworkable inventions with interest and to give him a sense of worth and self respect. As one does this more and more, communication improves and can be eventually mastered, at least most of the time.

From this we will soon see a child who makes few errors and has fewer accidents, learns quickly, respects the property of others, is helpful and team oriented, has fewer illnesses, is willfully productive, cheerful and generally very happy and loves his parents very, very much.

If one cannot bring himself to this height, it is himself that is in need of a " Time Out", not in the corner, but at a table, with pen and paper, making a diary of the detailed times he failed his child and did his child wrong. This tremendously unburdens one from the lower depths of gloom. It will bring a confused and angry parent up and out into the sunshine.

And to keep it this way, we have to always be on the lookout for our own little misdeeds, and keep on loving. Before our children can really know who they are, we first must know with certainty, who we are.

Much Love,
Tracy Sherwood
Superphonics Founder


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