Saturday, May 28, 2011


The use of a "Time Out" has been popular for many years as parents look for effective ways to discipline and train their child. Typically this approach is used to isolate a child for a period of time as a punishment for doing something wrong. It can feel to the child, especially a child who is still learning to connect, that you are, in effect, isolating her from your love, not merely your physical presence.  Karyn Purvis speaks of this in her book, The Connected Child, an excellent resource for adoptive and foster parents. She says, "But isolating and banishing strategies are extremely problematic for at-risk children, because these kids are already disconnected from relationships, attachment-challenged, and mildly dissociative because of their early histories of neglect and abuse. Isolation is not therapeutic for them." 

In a way, the traditional Time Out is a bit like "serving time" for a crime committed. In this analogy the parent then takes the role of the police officer, rather than the role of the loving parent, totally committed to training, teaching, and bringing the child into maturity and wholeness. I so want my parenting to reflect the beauty of the gospel and I'm often asking myself how Grace informs and shapes how I discipline. The gospel of Jesus is about relationship, not rules. God Himself, Emmanuel ("God With Us"), came into our world, our real-life issues, to draw Himself to us and us to Him, not to point out our weaknesses and then to separate from us. 

So, what is a more life-giving alternative to the Time Out?
Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller from the National Center for Biblical Parenting, another wonderful resource for parents, promote the idea of The Break. In this approach the goal is to communicate love by drawing near rather than isolating, by training rather than punishing, by intentionally building relationship rather than cutting off relationship. With this technique the parent takes on a role more like that of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, awaiting the return of his son with open arms.

What does it look like?
One way to effectively use The Break is to have your child sit in a designated spot close to you, within eye sight. This way he has not been removed from your presence, but he has been separated from the benefits of family life and fun, not for the purpose of punishment, but for the purpose of dealing with his heart. Let him know that as soon as he is able to talk about what went wrong you are ready and eager to talk with him, resolve the issue, and allow him to jump back into it. We often use the analogy of the game four square-- "The ball is in your court my son. Let us know when you are ready to 'play.'" This approach gives your child the power of choice. He realizes, I can either sit here and experience the consequences of my anger by missing out on the fun, or I can deal with the issue and get back in the game. 

When your child tells you she is ready, be sure to look her in the eyes, clearly and simply describe the problem, lead her to recognize her part in the problem, and release her with a "Well-done. You handled that problem well!" We'll talk more about how to have a forward-looking and positive resolution to issues of discipline in another post.

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