Isolating a child can make their behaviour worse, as it can lower their self-esteem and they can feel unloved. Using ‘Time In’ is better than the naughty step, argues former nanny and mum Kirsty Ketley
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Whether you have a toddler or a teenager, setting boundaries and getting them to stick to them can be one of parenting’s greatest challenges.
You may have tried using the ‘naughty step’ but found that your child’s behaviour has become worse as a result of using it. They might misbehave while on the step, take themselves off there unnecessarily, or point-blank refuse to sit there.
The naughty step or ‘time out’ technique was popular during the early 2000s, thanks to Super Nanny Jo Frost, but it actually dates back to 1969, when it was offered as an alternative to smacking children.
It involves placing your child in an isolated area – such as the bottom stair or on a chair, and then walking away and ignoring them.
Does the naughty step work for your children? Have your say in the comments below
The idea is that the child sits and reflects on what they have done and calms down, usually for one minute per every year of age.
However, many parents cite that it doesn’t work. Children will often take themselves off to the step voluntarily and then refuse to leave when their time is up, so a power struggle ensues, or while there, misbehave even more, like creating ‘artwork’ on the wall with crayons.
Time out doesn’t actually help children learn to regulate their emotions or help them to learn right from wrong. Isolating a child can make their behaviour worse, as it can lower their self-esteem and they can feel unloved. This then creates a cycle of negative behaviour that can have lasting effects.
So, if time out doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, how can you successfully avoid using it, while still managing your child’s behaviour?
Well, a more positive and effective strategy to use is ‘Time In’.
This involves sitting with your child when they are having a difficult moment, talking through their emotions and helping them to make sense of them. Empathy is important, as is speaking to them in a calm voice, at their eye level.
Talking through things in a calm manner helps your child know that their feelings are valid and helps them to understand how best to handle a situation. Plus research has shown that children who feel connected to their parents are far more willing to follow their guidance.
So, for example, if your child is hitting another child because they have taken a toy off them, you might say: “I know you’re feeling sad because XX took away your toy, however…” and give a simple explanation of why their behaviour is unacceptable and suggest a suitable alternative.
Meltdowns and negative behaviour can be a consequence of not being able to express feelings in younger children, so using ‘time in’ and walking them through how to calm themselves down is of huge benefit.
And don’t forget to pile on the praise when you see your child behaving well; it can really help decrease the behaviours you’re trying to discourage.