Our son recently began doing something hilarious and awesome: whenever we correct his behavior or tell him something he doesn't want to hear he scrunched up his face, points at us, and yells, "TIME OUT!" (I'd like to clarify that at no point have my husband or I ever yelled "TIME OUT" at him, though we have certainly said time-out and placed him in time-out. We just don't scream it like he does. )
It's funny. We try not to laugh. Sometimes it's not super funny because I'm already frustrated or just too plain tired to deal. My husband thought it was funny until Owen started doing it to him, too, in which case it became "something we should address." (Now that's funny.) It's funny to me because before Owen added "time out" to his arsenal, his other way of expressing his frustration and anger was to lean back, take a break, step forward and roar at me, all the while with his face scrunched up.
I'm sorry, child. I super-duper want to take you seriously but your cuteness is just too much.
The thing is, sometimes when Owen yells "TIME OUT" at me, he's right.
Let me explain.
I'm no parenting expert and I didn't have time to read the experts' books, either, so our use of time-outs is both experimental and somewhat in flux. What began as a reaction, a sort of consequence, to bad behavior morphed into more of a response to the need to step back, calm down, and reset. What began as me trying to figure out what appropriate consequences were that would deter my toddler from certain behaviors quickly became about instilling the ability to self-soothe, reset, and rejoin the activity in a calmer, better state.
You see, I did read one book. If any parent has time to read just one book about parenting, may it be this one: No Drama Discipline (Siegel and Bryson) . (Actually, read Whole-Brained Child as well, by the same authors. Two books. Just two. You can do it!) These books were introduced to me during my masters degree program, which focused on child and adolescent development and holistic family counseling. I picked them up again this past year when I realized I was heading straight for DISCIPLINE AND BEHAVIOR DETERENCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT and all the terrifying things about raising a child fast becoming their own self-directed person. HELP! SOS! HELP!
Real quick, these books reminded me that the most important thing when it comes to any kind of behavior encouragement/deterring with my son is connection. Discipline isn't a negative thing, per se. Discipline is practice, it's dedication. It's stick-to-it-iveness. It's grit. So, instead of seeing "discipline" as only being the consequences I dole out to Owen after he has misbehaved, I started thinking differently about his behavior and how I react. Because how I react is everything.
Also, I live with one very stubborn adult who has never done anything "just because," not one thing ever in his entire life. If he can't see the reason behind it - if he isn't motivated, genuinely motivated, by something - he probably isn't going to do it. And now I've birthed another one of these creatures and I've realized that telling Owen "because I said so" just isn't going to cut it. This kid is going to be intentional about everything he does - or doesn't do - and I need to help him discern the good motivators from the bad.
This puts my relationship with Owen as parent into a much different light. I'm more like a partner, a trail guide. We're in this together. I have some experience and some wisdom, but we're both learning as we go. The point is that we are learning together, we are in this together, and nothing can change that.
All this to say, "discipline" and "time-outs" may look very different in our house. (Or maybe not, I'm not in your house. Who's to say?)
I see a difference between genuine exploration/curiosity, testing boundaries, acting out of anger, and intentional mischievousness or misbehavior. No matter what Owen is doing, I always have to start with the "why." What need is he trying to meet with this behavior? (Because all behavior is needs-based.) Is he angry, sad, tired, hungry, lonely? (I'm certain I saw this online somewhere... HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired? Those seem to be the biggest culprits.) It's not fair to punish Owen for acting out of his "downstairs brain" (that's from No Drama Discipline/Whole-Brain Child) when he outside circumstances prevent him from accessing his "upstairs brain."
Discipline in our house is more about helping Owen recognize his own feelings, his tendencies, and his abilities to self-soothe. This is where time-outs come in.
Sometimes Owen puts himself in time-out. He voluntarily stops what he is doing and goes to sit in the time-out area. One time he was there for so long and was so quiet I completely forgot about it. It was only ten minutes, but still. There he was, sitting quietly, totally calmed down, ready to come back.
What toddler does that??? For that matter, what grown-up?
Anyway, back to Owen being right sometimes about momma needing a time-out.
Sometimes I do. Sometimes I, too, am super frustrated. Sometimes I, too, need a moment to collect myself, to take a break, to calm down and reaccess my upstairs brain. Sometimes when Owen yells "TIME OUT" and I'm already frustrated, it's my cue to step back. He's like a diabetes dog that can sense when my insulin levels are off.
And other times he's just being a toddler.