Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tazria 74- Time-Out or Time-In

Time-outs are a popular discipline tool as they can be implemented immediately and can be over in a couple of minutes. Time-outs are described as 'Punishment Lite' .They are  less destructive than other punishments such as spanking. The term is derived from 'time-out from positive reinforcements' techniques used with animals and the idea is that we use love withdrawal or not give attention when the child is misbehaving. Kids are rewarded with attention ,love and connection when they behave and don't get the love , connection and attention when they misbehave. The down side is that kids  feel their parents' love is conditional on how they behave, they are shown less love,  feel abandoned, rejected and confused. For parents the word time-out is easier to swallow than forced solitary confinement, which is what actually happens   when a kid is banished to his room. The idea is that kids should also use this time and reflect on what they did and how it impacted on others.

There seems to be a basis for ' forced solitary confinement from this week's portion-parasha Tazria. The person = Metzorah sinned by speaking badly about other people and as a result of his 'lashon ha'ra = evil speech, he developed a skin disease erroneously called leprosy. He was removed from people and put into solitary confinement. He would be able then to appreciate the importance of other people family, friends and community in giving him  'life' and how destructive and divisive his actions were to interpersonal relations and people.  In fact the Metzrorah who has the disease and is in solitary confinement is considered as having no life and as if he were dead. This is not because of his suffering due to the disease says Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, but due to him being in solitary confinement. Reb Isaac Sher explains that the disease = Tzara'at is only visited upon  righteous people who had sinned. Without sin, their skins shone as if the divine presence was reflected in them. But when they sinned the divine presence left them and their skins lost their brightness and developed spots and marks. Fools and wicked people were not on the highest levels so they could be subject to this type of   divine intervention. Also in solitary confinement these people would just feel sorry for themselves , and not reflect on how their actions impacted on others and then repent.

When kids are forced to do ' time-outs the last thing they do is reflect on what they did and feel sorry for others or a sibling. The now feel sorry for themselves, think their parents are mean and plan to get revenge against  his brother. In any case the focus is now on complying with the time-out and on the 'mean' parent and not on the problem that gave rise to the time-out. This leads to power struggles , kids running away when they hear the word time-out, or keep on asking if they can get up, and worst of all because parents find themselves using time-outs repeatedly and often for the same offence. When time-outs don't work parents find themselves doing moretime-outs  and more harsh versions of the same thing.

Instead parents trying to feel in control parents should aim for ' connection' and cooperation. They should be pro-active and 'not in the moment'  try to collaboratively solve problems that are predictably giving rise to challenging behavior. And even' in the moment', instead of threatening a kid with a time-out, they can do a 'time –in ' and ask what's going on and remind the kid that what he does has an impact on other people, explain that some ways of acting are just unacceptable and then try to solve the problem where kids are likely to feel that their needs are being considered. Parents can also use time -in to  empathize with a kid's feelings, helping them to process their feelings which all maybe needed to help the storm pass over. We could also suggest another activity and with toddlers try to distract or redirect them. 
Kids  can also with the help of his parents  set up a 'den' or a 'comfort corner' so that they have the option to retreat to a comfortable and comforting place when they  are  acting silly or going out of control. Taking your own time-out or chill-out in order to cool off and calm down is an important skill that we can model and also teach our kids. But when time-out is framed and construed as punishment   the important   lesson of how to 'change gears ' or 'resetting our computers ' is lost. So even when the kid refuses our invitation to take some time by himself  then in a last resort we try to gently remove him from the situation and the place where the problem is happening, but not from us. The kid may prefer to be alone so that he can feel safe to vent his feelings.  When we are forced to remove kids from the situation we should take care so that our kids don't feel that our love, attention and presence is being switched off or withdrawn.

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