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Whose kid sometimes needs a time out? *points to self* This gal’s!

June 11, 2009

In what has quickly become one of my very favorite blogs, The Feminist Breeder has written an eloquent and hilarious post on time-outs and time-ins, the dreaded “bad mom” moniker, and the altogether crazy idea that there is some univeral method (one with a book and experts and step-by-step guides, no doubt) to parenting children.  This post is so awesome, in fact, that it has made me–at least temporarily–toss off my mommy-guilt and shout to the world “Yeah, I AM a good mom!”  (Those of you who know me in real life know that I suffer from this stupid neurosis that “forces” me to constantly ask others if they think that I am a “bad mom.”  So the fact that this blog makes me want to celebrate my good mommyhood is truly remarkable.)

If you’re not inclined to click on the link to the Feminist Breeder’s blog, I’ll copy and paste some of it for you.  (Really, I think I did a few fist-pumps and “hell yeahs!” when I read it for the first time.)

A quick background first: The author is responding to accusations from others (both directly in the Twittersphere and indirectly from this website) that she is fundamentally damaging her child and her parent-child relationship by placing her son in time-outs instead of using “time-ins.”  As the Feminist Breeder (hereafter “FB”) writes:

According to this style when the child misbehaves, the root cause of the misbehavior is some need for the parent’s attention, so the parent should focus all their attention on that child for a set amount of time.  The article implies that A.) the only reason my child is misbehaving is because I’m neglecting or ignoring him and B.) as long as I’m 100% focused on my child he will not misbehave.  Neither of those things is true.

Now, I’ll agree with the proponents of “time-ins” that sometimes a child’s misbehavior is ultimately an attempt to get his or her parent’s attention.  I’ll also agree that the act of placing a child in time-out should not be overly shaming for the child.  For instance, referring to a time-out chair as a “naughty chair” might reinforce the idea that the child rather than his or her bad act is naughty.  And this is why M (my three-year-old) and I have conversations during every time out about how he is a good boy, but sometimes he does naughty things.

But I also agree wholeheartedly with FB that more parental attention itself does not always (or even often, in my case) correct misbehavior, nor does it always prevent such behavior.  In fact, some of the most egregious forms of bad behavior (including the incident last week where M chucked a book at his baby brother’s face) have occurred while we have been happily playing together.  And sure–M is probably still getting over the fact that he has to share my attention with the adorable mass of baby blubber that we call his little brother, and I’m sure there are times where he would like A (said baby brother) to go away for a while, thereby leaving mommy’s attention all for M.  (We actually have a name for that: A’s naptime.)

But I disgress.

When you throw a book at someone’s face or jump on an end-table when I have asked you three times in a row not to do so or rip a book to shreds because I reminded you that you needed to eat two bites of the dinner on your plate before mommy was kind enough to cook you up a grilled cheese instead……………….you get a time out.  (And to be clear, the “you” I refer to here is M, my brilliant three-year-old who has been both blessed and cursed with a will as strong as steel.  Other “yous” out there might respond better to other forms of discipline–even including time-ins–when they throw things at people’s faces, etc.)

FB shares a prime (and funny) example of her own use of time outs:

Okay, raise your hand if your child has ever gone ape-shit over some dumb little thing when you’re sitting right there playing with him/her – Anyone?  Anyone?  I know mine has.  I’ll be sitting there playing cars with him, and he’ll pick up a car and throw it across the room – just to test me.  So I’ll say, “we don’t throw cars, it could hurt someone.”  So  a few minutes later, the toddler, being a toddler, defies all logic and reason and picks up the nearest car and hurls it straight toward his baby brother’s nose.  Luckily he misses, so I firmly say “if you throw another car, we’re done playing.”  So, of course, it’s a power struggle now, and he needs to see exactly how much damage he can do before he finds himself in a heap of trouble.  Fast forward a few more minutes, and a car is whipped across the room hard enough to take out a lamp.  So I say “that’s it, the cars are being put away.”  The child has lost his cars privileges for the moment. 

Well, Insert screaming, tantrum, flailing, throwing himself on the floor, running around the room, knocking things over, yada, yada, yada.  Here is where the child needs a Time-Out.  And for those new-ish mothers with children under 2 who read this and think “my child would neeeeeeever do that” all I can say is, “oh, you just wait.”  I once had a dreamy little baby who could never, ever do any wrong.  Then he grew into a toddler.  There’s a reason they call it “The Terrible Twos”.  You are not immune to it, so get off your high-horse right now before Karma smacks you off it.
Back to the tantrum.  Jonas has lost his little mind temporarily, so there’s nothing left to do but place him in his special little Time-Out chair (adorable, isn’t it?).  He gets the “this is why you are here” speech, and he’s left to sit there for two minutes to chill the f*ck out.  A few minutes later, the child has calmed himself, and realizes sitting in a chair isn’t nearly as much fun as the cars we were playing with before he went berserk.  So he says he’s sorry, gives me a hug and a kiss, and is ready to continue the day without incident.  Problem solved.

Would you believe the previous story sounds like child abuse to some people?  They actually call it “Non-parenting” or “Conditional Parenting” – as in, “you’re teaching the child that you’ll only parent them (i.e. love them) when they’re good.”  Okay, what the F ever.  I believe that kids need parents to teach them that there are choices and there are consequences.  Chilren NEED guidance.  Discipline shows them you give a crap.  And if you can’t play nice?  That’s your choice, but it’s MY choice not to play with you then!

And these last few points–that kids need discipline (a term that should not be confused with punishment) in order to prepare them for “the outside world”–is one of the reasons that my child (note: not everyone else’s child) gets time-outs.  This is because misbehavior is not all about seeking parental attention.  It is also about testing parental limits.  It’s about discovering the consequences of stretching those limits.  And once these “baby birds” fly out of my proverbial nest and go off to college or work or whatever, my hope is that I will send them off with the gift of self-discipline.  That they will know they are good boys who will still face consequences if they do naughty things.

Finally, here’s the part about the philosophy behind time-ins that really irks me.  I’m all for love and compassion and all of the wonderful ideas behind “time-ins” (and I think that my parenting style is chock-full of love and compassion, for the record–and this is evidenced by the fact that M blurts out unprovoked “I love you’s,” gives un-asked-for hugs, and bubbles over with sweet and thoughtful comments and remarks each and every day).  But I do not–do not–agree with the idea that time-ins or time-outs or whatever form of discipline you choose should refrain from focusing on right and wrong.  “Regaining peace between all concerned” is important.  The unpleasantness of the undesired behavior might, in fact, be experienced by the misbehaving child.  And sometimes the acts that warrant time-outs in my house aren’t categorically wrong.  (Being the child of an attorney and a philosopher, M has unfortunately learned the art of playing up grey areas and loopholes and such,)

But purposely hurling a book at your younger brother is wrong.  Throwing toys to express one’s anger is wrong.  And to teach a child otherwise seems to plant the seeds of an uncritical moral relativism.  It’s the sort of uncritical moral relativism that leads some of the students in my introductory philosophy classes to say, “Weeeellll, we can’t really say that genocide is wrong because those committing the genocide thought that it was a good thing to do.  And we can’t really say that rape is wrong because the rapist thinks that it is right.”  (For the record, instead of calling my students a bunch of unthinking jackasses, I say, “Okay, well, if your roommate went and smashed up your iPod while you were sleeping tonight, I doubt you’d be a moral relativist when you woke up in the morning.”)

Damn.  Again, I disgress.

Anyway, FB also writes:

And if the article was only offering a different option for discipline, or an alternative approach if Time-Out’s aren’t working (like this book does) then fine. I’m all for alternatives. And if that first article was only implying that sometimes children act out when mommy is not paying attention to them, then okay, I can see that the child might need attention.  Every mother has found herself taking a little too long in the bathroom, only to realize that her unattended toddler is up to his ears in trouble in the next room.  In that case, of course most mothers will drop what they’re doing (if they can) and go over and interact with the child.  Most moms realize that was their own dumb fault for not paying attention.  But that’s not a “style” or “technique”.  That’s just common sense parenting.  Nobody needs to tell me to get the hell off Twitter and go figure out why my kids are yelling at each other.  I just do that.

I would also like to add that nobody else in the world is going to put up with your kid’s crap and give them a “Time-In” when they’re actin’ a fool.  In my house, we try to teach our kids how to behave out in the real world – and if they want someone to play with them, they better not act like jerks.  That will get them nowhere, fast.  In short, what I’m doing works.  It works for us anyway, and if the “Time-In-Only” method is working for you, then what-ev-er, good for you, but don’t try to tell me I’m “damaging” my child.  Go focus your efforts on the crackheads and people who beat their kids.

Wise and hilarious words!

And just to be clear: while I’m not opposed to time-ins, and while I’m sure that they work for kids under two, those whose children are four+ years apart in age, or those who are blessed to have children with calm and peaceful demeanors, I don’t think that they are the right way to respond to my spirited, stubborn, and insanely intelligent little boy.  His one-year-old brother, maybe, but we’ll have to wait and see until he gets a bit older.  They are different and unique kids, after all, and they deserve discipline and encouragement that reflects this uniqueness.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. thefeministshopper permalink
    June 11, 2009 9:51 pm

    Awwwe, thanks again.

    I like your further analysis of it – especially the bit about the moral relativism. I really hated how that article tried to say that there is something wrong with teaching the difference between right and wrong. Some things are just not to be tolerated, and that’s that – at least in my house anyway!

    Anyway… awesome post. Thanks.

  2. Jenny permalink
    June 12, 2009 10:15 am

    This post is hysterical and sad – I can’t wait to go to the other site and read that post. I think people need to get a life instead of spending all their time judging other people’s parenting styles – most especially when that person is not doing anything to harm their children! Who the heck hasn’t been put in time out? I know I definetely got thrown in it a time or two and did I deserve it you bet I did (just don’t tell my parents I admitted to that lol). Thanks for the post – 🙂

  3. BirthingBeautifulIdeas permalink*
    June 12, 2009 3:02 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to check out my post, FB! Again, I really enjoy your blog and especially appreciate your insight and candor. For me, at least, you illuminated many of the reasons I get so uncomfortable when parents think that *all other* parents should adhere unwaveringly to x, y, or z parenting “method.” Heck, I don’t even think I’ll be able to use the same “methods” with my two adorable yet *totally* different boys!

  4. BirthingBeautifulIdeas permalink*
    June 12, 2009 3:04 pm

    Haha, Jenny I feel the same way about being put in “time out” (or its equivalent) when I was a kid. A couple of years ago (loooooong after I left the house), I actually thanked my mom for some of times that she “disciplined” me when I was a kid. As I said in my post, I think that it helped me to grow into a *self*-disciplined person (tho’ lord knows I’m not perfect in that respect…:-)).

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