In April of 2011, Ireland was rapped over the knuckles (pardon the pun!) by the EU for not having legislation outlawing smacking. I think it’s probably fair to say that most parents in Ireland do not lash out at their children the way previous generations of parents did, but can find themselves at a loss for what else to do that’s effective. Many parents use the concept of ‘time out’ or ‘the naughty step’ to enforce discipline without violence. But is this effective? Or does the naughty step make the parent – but not the child – feel better?
Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Ireland has signed) states that children must be protected from all forms of violence. To me,this means that children should not be hit- and I don’t think that’s open to discussion or interpretation. If hitting an adult is assault, then hitting a child is, too – whether that child is your own or someone else’s. The concepts of ‘time out’ and taking to the ‘naughty step’ have gained popularity with parents in Ireland – and appear to be the tools of disciplinary tools of choice for TV’s Supernanny (who, it must be noted, has no children of her own).
I’ve got to be honest, I have no time for time out, and I wonder what the naughty step did to make it so. My feeling on these methods is that, at times when your child is feeling upset or frustrated or angry, the last thing they need is to be pushed away from you. When my children had ‘episodes’ I found it comforted both of us if I gave them ‘time in’ rather than ‘time out’ and hugged them or put them in their sling. If their misdemeanour was something that really annoyed me, and felt unable to be loving, I would give myself ‘time out’ and leave the room until I had regained control of myself.
These days, with my kids aged 9 and 11, we operate a system of ‘Time and Room’. Taken from the nautical call – whereby if two ships are on a collision course and one calls for ‘time and room’ the other vessel must give it to them. Even if the first ship is in the wrong. In terms of family life, what this means is that if there is a row brewing or happening, any party involved can call ‘Time and Room’ and just leave. The other party/ies then give the person who has left the time and room they need to calm down/recompose/chill out. It works exceedingly well – giving everyone the time they need to reassess and recalibrate. The important thing about this method, I feel, is that we view it as a form of self-care and family-care rather than a punishment. The person calling for time and room decides how long it lasts, so they hold their own power and remain in control.
We adults need to remember that children don’t mean to make their carers angry. The behaviour we dislike has come about because they want attention, or their concentration dipped, or they switched off, or they were frustrated or angry with a situation or another person – perhaps a sibling. What they need is kindness and loving guidance, not to be shamed and embarrassed and made to feel as though they are not good enough.
In my view, the naughty step tells children that they can only be around us when they are “being good”. It tells children that our love is conditional upon their behaviour.
I know it’s easy to get frazzled and it’s easy to get upset with a child who isn’t doing what you want them to do, but as the eminent child psychologist Haim Ginott reminds us, behaviour is motivated by emotion. So we need to look beyond the child’s behaviour and look at the feeling(s) inspiring it.
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