At dinner last night, one of my best friends was describing the kind of small parenting nightmare we all run into roughly three hundred forty seven times per day. Her son had acted out, she’d disciplined him, and now a week later she is questioning what she did. “I put him in time out – and I just read that you’re not supposed to do ‘time outs’ anymore, so I felt really bad,” she said mid-story.
Time outs are just one of the many, many things that parents can do wrong. By using them. By not using them. By using them too frequently. By using them the wrong way. By using them too infrequently. Really, evidence shows that no matter how you are using or not using time outs, you are irreparably altering your child’s emotional development. I’m sorry to break it to you. You’re doing everything wrong.
According to Parents magazine, “Sometimes the best way to cool off a heated conversation is with a time out.”
According to an article in TIME, time outs are “hurting your child” no matter how you are using them.
One children’s hospital calls time out “a frequently used and positive intervention that can help modify children’s negative behaviors.”
Yet another therapist’s article says that time out damages a child’s “core sense of security and connection.”
What is very clear here is that nothing is. Time out, sleep training, childcare choices, discipline strategies…we can go insane reading too much information on any one parenting subject because nothing is consistent. And in reality, it depresses us and causes anxiety when we never know what is “right” for our children. We stop listening to what we know is right for our individual children in our unique settings, with the parenting tools we have at hand, and start trying to slog through the mess of information that essentially tells us we can never be good enough at raising our kids.
No one strategy can apply to every single child in every home except consistent love. I’m a fan of attachment parenting, but if that isn’t how you bond with your kids, that doesn’t mean you are less than. Just as I am no less than the parent who never uses a time out when their child is out of control and could benefit from simple removal from the situation.
But that is not the message we get online or in “expert” books, blogs, or conversations. And so we question our mothering. When we question too much about our every parenting move, we get distracted by the millions of options for parenting the right way, the millions of things that are detrimental to children in every way. We spend so much time reading about the perfect techniques for getting our children to sleep or eat or do their homework that we forget to look at our children and ask them, with our words and with our trials and errors, what will work for them. What will work for us.
Because we’re parents, and we know. When I slow down and watch my three-year-old, it is so much more clear to me what he needs. When I quit worrying how my actions – when they are loving intentions at the very core – are surely negatively affecting my sons or which expert opinion I read in the latest magazine issue that contradicts everything I know has been working, I can at least begin finding out what my little one needs. I still lay in bed at night and worry that I’ve done it wrong or that I’ve damaged my kids in some small way, but hopefully I am finding my own way.