Consequences and reflection

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Timeout is a popular way of letting youngsters know that they’ve transgressed by withdrawing them temporarily from what they’ve been doing and ending their current misbehaviour, says Ian Munro. 

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
As I wrote a couple of months ago, it’s an effective technique for those aged 8 to 10. But then what?

Well, hopefully, by then, it’s taught them quite a bit about consequences and I mentioned the possibility that they might eventually put themselves into timeout when told off.

In doing this, they demonstrate that they’ve understood the concept. That’s an ideal time to introduce a less formal version — calmly asking them to go to their room until they’re ready to behave, be pleasant, co-operative or whatever, and have an apology to give. You might set a minimum time of 10 or 15 minutes or leave it to their discretion.

Rather than a punishment, it’s an opportunity for them to go away and reflect on what they’ve done. They might be away for quite some time if they get side-tracked.

Whenever they do eventually return, their reappearance must be accompanied by both a changed attitude and a genuine apology. Even if it’s mealtime they should still do what’s required before returning to the fold.

This process enhances taking responsibility for actions and, with the apology, means that they need to have thought about what they did wrong and its effect on others. For it to be genuine, they need to understand why they’re apologising and be able to express it themselves.

Parroting words we’ve given them isn’t sufficient. “Say you’re sorry for upsetting me” followed by “I’m sorry for upsetting you” rarely involves any genuine feeling of sorrow.

They need to be able to describe their action: "I’m sorry for breaking the vase", "I’m sorry for not shutting the gate" or "I’m sorry for hurting Kelly".

As they get older, they should be able to add an additional understanding. "I’m sorry for breaking the vase. I won’t kick the ball around inside again," "I’m sorry for not shutting the gate and letting the dog out," "I’m sorry for hurting Kelly. I keep forgetting she’s not as strong as me. I won’t do it again."

Then, by adolescence, timeout will have gone from our armoury to be replaced by consequences related, as best we can, to the bad behaviour. For example, for not wearing their cycle helmet, the bike is out of commission for a week. For thumping a sibling, they take over one of the sibling’s chores for that day or a couple of days.

As with timeout, it’s all about delivering consequences consistently, not just threatening them. Consequences should continue to be as immediate as possible and not drag on for too long.


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