When natural and logical consequences don’t work, timeouts can be an effective tool. One thing to understand about timeouts the Ezzo way is that the Ezzos don’t believe in timeouts as they are culturally done.
Timeouts the Supernanny way
Before we talk about the Ezzos’ version of timeout, let’s talk about the cultural perception of timeout, often seen on Supernanny. The idea here is that you send your child to sit on a spot in or near the main area of the house. The child sits for one minute per year of his age (e.g., a 5-year-old sits for 5 minutes). If the child doesn’t sit, you spend an hour or more sweating (and going mad) as you keep putting the child back on the spot. Then once the child sits and his time is up, you offer a two-sentence reminder of what he did wrong and demand an apology. If you have seen the show, you know that the apologies the children give are rarely heartfelt. The parents hug and kiss the reluctant child, and all is well with the world (not likely).
Now for parents who are just beginning to command authority from their children, this version of the timeout at least establishes a bit of respect for the parent. But for those of us seeking first-time obedience (or for those of us who already have it), this version of a timeout does little to teach, which is what discipline is all about.
The Ezzos’ version of timeouts is more about isolation.
“Children are social beings. Isolation means temporarily taking away the privilege of social contact…. Isolation can be used as a form of correction when a parent isolates a child to his room, not for play, but for contemplation. This approach should be used to draw attention to the more serious offenses,” Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition, p. 161.
You’ll notice the Ezzos don’t even use the term “timeout.” The only time you will hear this word from them is in the phrase “reflective timeout” which is done BEFORE the child has committed any wrongdoing. Its intent is entirely different.
Isolation is not some cursory punishment with the child sitting near you and his siblings. As I mentioned in a previous post, we want to discipline, not punish our children. The goal of discipline is to teach, not make them suffer for the sake of suffering. So to have them sit just for the sake of sitting does little to teach them about why their actions were wrong.
The goal: a happy and repentant heart
If you have seen Supernanny, you might recall the “apologies” that are given after a timeout. (Yes, those quotes are meant to convey sarcasm.) The parent requires the child to apologize with a mere “sorry” which is often mumbled through tears or a dejected face that doesn’t convey repentance. That insincere “sorry” sounds more like the child was sorry he got caught, with a bit of surprise that the parent actually followed through on the timeout.
With the Ezzos’ version of timeout, the ultimate goal is a happy and repentant heart. When you send him to timeout, he is likely feeling mad, sad or indignant that you would send him to his room. By the end of his timeout, he must express true repentance, offer a sincere apology and even ask how he can right the wrong. It is only when you see this in your child that the timeout should be over.
So how long is a timeout?
The Ezzos might argue that one minute per year of age is hardly enough time for a child to seriously contemplate what he did wrong and find a happy and repentant heart. You must also consider the seriousness of the offense when deciding how long your child should sit in his room. A subtle form of disrespect might warrant 5-10 minutes while an aggressive action done in anger might warrant 20 minutes or more.
The key idea here is that the parent decides how long the child needs to sit. And when making that decision, it’s not a matter of how much of a punishment the child needs (or how much of a break the parent wants). It’s a matter of how long it will take for the child to reach the point of repentance. Every child is different, so it is up to the parent to decide.
I suggest that you even allow your child to determine how long his timeout should be. A child about 5 years old and up (assuming a healthy level of first-time obedience), should be allowed to determine when his timeout is over. Now, if he sits for two minutes and you can tell his heart isn’t in the right place, send him back. But what you might discover more often is that the child will sit for much longer than you expect. The child knows how much time he needs to achieve a happy and repentant heart and will sit for as long as he thinks is necessary.
First-time obedience is necessary
As you can imagine, sending a child to his room to sit on his bed will take a healthy dose of first-time obedience. If you don’t have it with your child, you will end up like those parents you see on Supernanny chasing after their children for hours on end. This is one reason why first-time obedience is so important.
If you are still working on first-time obedience with your toddler, it’s fine to do timeouts in a crib or playpen. Just be sure they are done away from the main area of the house. You still need him to be isolated. And keep him there for as long as is needed for him to have a happy and repentant heart. Some might scoff at the idea of a 2-year-old feeling repentant, but those of you with toddlers know what I’m talking about. You can see it in their eyes. These kids wear their hearts on their sleeves.
In my next post, I’ll offer more on the mechanics of issuing timeouts the Ezzo way.