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Time to take time out

Children should never be separated from the group as punishment. pcgn7/flickr

New laws in Victoria have introduced fines for childcare providers who send children to “time out” or a “naughty step”. So was the super nanny wrong? Is the “naughty corner” really that bad for a child’s development?

The problem with time out

It can affect children’s self esteem. It is also quite exclusive; it is not an inclusive practice. It is something that has been seen to be inappropriate for quite a long time. In some respects I’m surprised that it is even raised as an issue because I would have imagined that over the last 15 years that there would be very few childcare centres that would be using such a form of behaviour modification.

Certainly time out chairs and time out corners or time out where the child is separated out away from the other children are things of the past and haven’t been considered appropriate practice for a long time.

Lasting effects

I think if it is used in an extreme form it definitely [can have ill effects.] I think common sense would tell you that if you were regularly having to experience separation from others and made to feel less worthy, if that was happening on a daily basis for example in a childcare setting, that child would gradually start to feel not as confident as the other members of the group who are maybe receiving positive affirmation.

What we always try and do is work from a strength perspective, even in the management of children you need to manage behaviour positively by giving children an opportunity to make their personal choices.

Children should be given the choice of how they are going to play and actively encouraged to choose the right one. Instead of having time out, what we would say is ‘This play is not working for you at the moment, where would you like to play now?’

It is a redirection of behaviour into a positive outcome for the child, not a redirection into a negative outcome for the child.

At home

In the home environment parents have the right to choose whichever form of behaviour modification programme that they feel is appropriate for their children. In some circumstances ‘time out’ may work.

We know we’ve all been sent to our rooms and I think for most of us this form of time out it hasn’t had major psychological impact and that’s probably because the redirection took place within the safety and privacy of the home. In such a situation there’s less chance the child’s self esteem can be damaged.

In a public forum when a child is subjected to overt separation from the rest of the group it is likely that the child would experience strong feelings around rejection and criticism.

If parents are employing time out as a form of behaviour modification, when it is appropriate to do so?

Developmentally, for a very young child up the age of three, the child would not fully understand what the strategy was all about. For the very young child who is at the sensory motor level of cognitive development the child is not really able to understand the perspective of another person therefore it is likely that the child would have difficulty understanding of the meaning of the directive.

As children mature they begin to understand what is right and what is wrong and what behaviours please parents and which behaviours that don’t.

When nothing else works

In these circumstances there is a case for separating the child from the group but the child should never be left alone but rather in the care of supportive staff member. So if the child was really struggling with being part of the group and behaving anti-socially, perhaps physically towards other children, it is a duty of care responsibility of the teacher to protect the other children by removing the possible danger. When this happens the child who is not managing his or her behaviour can be firmly but lovingly managed through the situation to insure a positive outcome for all.

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