Like many families today, we utilize "time out" as a disciplinary tool. With two spirited girls, timeouts are essential for me having a moment to cool down and collect my thoughts as much as for the kids.
Our spot for timeouts is on the bottom of our stairs. They sit down there, and I explain why they have timeout ("You are on a timeout for hitting. No hitting, hitting hurts." I really should just record this on my ipod and hit replay for the thirty-seven times a day I say it). They have to stay there until I come get them, at which point they are supposed to apologize and hug me or whomever they offended. This really works quite well most of the time. It mostly seems to work as a re-set button for my kids. Takes them out of whatever situation they are in, and gives them a second to cry and calm down. The parenting books I read say that you shouldn't really present the timeout as a punishment so much as a time for the child to reflect and gather themselves. So we try to do that, being calm and patient, and watching tone of voice. But the kids still pretty much recognize it as a punishment.
My youngest daughter is nearly two, and she seems to be particularly fascinated by this whole timeout concept. When the older daughter is irritated, she puts the younger in timeout -- the most amusing part is that the younger one complies, not yet aware she can resist. When the older girl is herself in timeout, my youngest goes and sits on the step with her, in solidarity. Mostly I see my youngest process this whole timeout thing by her putting everything in a timeout. Everything. Her most frequent offender is a little freebie doll that she totes around. We call him Baseball Man. And apparently Baseball Man is a pretty shady character, because he gets in trouble a lot. Many times a day, she picks him up, scolds him soundly, and deposits him roughly on the step. So I frequently round the corner and encounter this:
|Poor Baseball Man|
Or even more likely, this:
And when she's on a roll, she will put everything in time out -- Baseball Man, books, trains, stuffed animals, furniture, everything -- so there's a lot of this type thing:
|The chair was too heavy or it would be here too.|
But really, these little timeouts are a pretty terrific parenting tool. And I started thinking that maybe I should be using timeouts in other areas of my life. I mean, it's really a smart idea to take a moment to remove myself from a situation I'm not handling well, and to give myself a chance to cry, reflect, and gather myself when things are tough. So maybe when I yell at my kids in frustration, I should give myself a timeout instead of them sometimes. Maybe when I'm tired at the end of the night, I should sit on the stairs and think and breathe for a moment instead of numbly turning on the tv or getting a snack. And I bet you anything, if I were to put my quarterly tax returns on a timeout, I would feel a whole lot better when I went to pick them up off the stairs, even though they most likely still would not have filled themselves out.
This week, find a creative way to give your frustrations a real life timeout. Put your annoying co-worker's business card on the step in a timeout. Put the overcooked pasta on a timeout. Put that stack of papers you don't want to file on a timeout. Put yourself on a timeout for snapping at your husband. It might give you giggle, might make you feel symbolically like you have done something. Give yourself that moment to breathe and reflect, to push the re-set button. And then pick up your Baseball Man, give him a hug, and go play.