We live at a time when parents are under increasing pressure to cope with their children and at the same time, the demands that life in this world places on them. When mom and dad are at the end of their tether, it is so much easier for them to say an angry word, lash out with a slap, or shout at the child. But what kind of reaction does this create in children? It leaves them with pain that may need primal therapy in adulthood, if they are ever to resolve it. Children who receive anger become afraid, and children who are slapped or hit, learn only that violence is an acceptable way of settling disputes. They also learn that big people can hit smaller people, and smaller people are not allowed to hit back. This teaches them helplessness and victimhood, and often leaves them with unresolved feelings of emotional pain and anger. Many parents today have turned away from this kind of domestic violence, but a more insidious form of child abuse is taking its place—that of the so-called “time out.” In this situation, the child is banished to her room, and told not to come back till she has calmed down and can “behave.” This hurts children as much as slaps—and often even more. We need to understand that children who are “acting up” are children who are needing our focused attention. They are often hurting, upset, or angry about something that has happened or something someone has said or done to them, and what they most need at that time is our love and full attention. A mother in Canada has written a beautiful poem, The “Time-out” Chair, which says it so well. I am not suggesting that we become “permissive” with children. Often we need to set secure, healthy boundaries. Sometimes we have to say “no” to children too. But we need to let children know that even if we limit their behaviour (they can’t run in the road, or have those sweets in the supermarket), we understand their frustration, and will always allow and respect their feelings so that they can know we are on their side. At such times, children need most of all to know that we love them, understand what they are feeling, and that when they are hurting, we will give them our full and focused attention—along with warm hugs and holding. Usually that’s all that is needed to calm the child, and get things back on track again. Children don’t have to be punished into being social little beings, they just need to be loved and respected for the inherently social little beings that they are, and they will respond to our trust.
The “Time-out” Chair
Today I took my four-year-old into my lap.
This was his time-out.
Time to cuddle with mommy
And hear how much he means to me.
Not him sitting alone in a chair
Feeling as if everyone hates him.
I’m not the perfect parent.
I yell, throw things at my kids
And say mean stuff sometimes.
Today my kid was acting
Like what other people might call a brat
Kicking his brother
Knocking over toys
And yelling at the top of his lungs
To bug us all.
So I went over to him, lifted him up
And held him close, just us.
I told him he is special to me
He melted, tension flowed away.
Centre of my world
He relaxed, aaaah...
After a few minutes
He jumped off my lap
And went to play quietly with his brother.
I watched in awe.
I finally listened to my insides
That said children need love
To be the centre of one’s world
For just a few minutes
In the time-out chair.
Dunster, BC, Canada
Used with permission