So you probably know that I'm a big fan of the concept of "Positive Discipline," which I learned about from Katie's co-op preschool. At first I was really skeptical, but the more I use the techniques, the better they work. Yesterday I found myself trying a new one, without any advance planning. In fact, it was a technique that I thought sounded a bit weird and unnatural, so I surprised myself when I heard some of the words coming out of my mouth.
I think most parents have heard of "Time Out," even if they don't use it. Long before I had kids (you know, back when I thought I was an expert) I thought Time Out made a lot of sense. It certainly seemed better than spanking. But I hadn't had any real exposure to it - I hadn't watched a parent actually use it on their child. The first time I saw a Time Out used, I was at the park on a playdate with a mom I really like. It's clear to me that she is a really good mom with a good attitude toward parenting, and her three kids are incredibly well-behaved to boot. Her three year old did something that required correction, and she calmly sent him to a corner of the playground for a Time Out. He wailed and howled the whole time. Finally I guess he must have gotten over it, because he was allowed out and continued playing. He seemed unharmed, but I couldn't really see that anything beneficial had taken place. But I thought to myself, "It must work, because her kids are awesome."
Months later, I watched another family use Time Out on their 18 month old toddler. He was doing something typical for a toddler (can't remember what) and the parents were getting more and more upset, raising their voices and threatening "If you do that again, you're going to get a Time Out!" I'm really not sure if the toddler understood the threat, but I'm sure he understood the angry tone of voice. And of course, he continued to do whatever it was (because that's what toddlers do) and he was summarily carried from the room and left to scream alone in his bedroom. The whole scene just felt so ugly to me. Again, it's a lot better than hitting, but I just didn't feel comfortable with it.
I didn't think much more about it until I started reading the Positive Discipline books. In a nutshell, they categorize Time Out as a punishment; a nonviolent one, to be sure, but a punishment nonetheless. And their hypothesis is that punishment, in general, makes kids feel bad. I mean, that's kind of the point, right? "Sit in this corner and think about how bad you've been!" The authors feel that when kids feel bad, they act out, but when they feel better, they do better. So they propose a different twist on Time Out. They say the parents should take a minute or two in a quiet place, not the child! Or, that the parent should accompany the child into Time Out. Their idea of Time Out is just that - a little break from whatever drama is going on.
Like most of these new parenting concepts, I thought going with your kid into Time Out sounded pretty useless. But yesterday, Katie and I got into some drama. She wanted me to fill her bubble fan with bubbles. When I got the big 2-liter vat of bubble solution down from its hiding place, she immediately wanted that instead. I'm all for being flexible most of the time, but I said no. I couldn't stomach 2 liters of bubble solution all over the floor. But I filled up the bubble fan, brought it outside and turned it on for her. She was momentarily diverted while I put the bubble solution away, but soon she was back inside, and somehow managed to turn the bubble fan upside down. Bubble solution everywhere! But I kept my cool, and handled it just like we handle every other spill. I said, "Oops, the bubbles spilled! Let's clean up!" and I got a cloth for myself and one for Katie. We sang the clean up song and got most of the bubbles cleaned up. Then she decided she wanted to mop. I got the mop for her, but instead of mopping, she started waving it in the air and banging it on the sliding glass door. I asked her to stop, telling her that the mop belongs on the floor, but she ignored me. I took her arm and looked her right in the eye as I repeated myself, and she started to squirm away and scream.
And I just looked at her and said, "Do you need big hugs?" "No! No hugs! No!" But I could tell that this wasn't really about mopping or bubbles. So I gathered her into my arms anyway and said, "Let's go take a Time Out so we can both feel better." I was kind of stunned to hear myself saying it, but it felt right. We went into the den and read a book on the couch. I gave her lots of hugs and kisses. And when we both felt better, I asked if she was ready to try mopping again. She said "Yesh" and slid off my lap. We went back into the kitchen and cheerfully finished cleaning up.
I don't know if I did it right, or if it will work every time (nothing else does) but I kind of enjoyed Time Out yesterday! Somehow it felt really good to meet a tantrum with love. I know that my pregnancy is getting harder and harder for Katie, both physically since I can't be as active with her, and emotionally because she knows something big is coming. I wish the baby would hurry up so we can all wrap our minds around what it's going to be like as a family of four! It's hard enough for me to wait, I can't imagine what it's like for Katie, who doesn't have a real sense of time yet. She must think we're winding her up about a baby coming!
Cross your fingers and think labor-y thoughts for me! :)