Motives Matter

Recently a friend was discussing the topic of timeouts for children and she described them as “abandonment”. Are timeouts really abandonment?

Our lives are filled with things that can be used “for good or evil”. Are knives violent? Are cars murderous? Clearly, the answer in both cases is no— intent separates a useful knife from a killer knife.

So too with timeouts. As a parent, check your motives before issuing a timeout. Are you doing it for selfish reasons (“I can’t take this, get away from me”)? Are you doing it to punish (rather than instruct) the child? Do you enjoy the feeling of power? These are all counterproductive motives: consciously or unconsciously, your child gets your motives, and that will strain confidence and trust in you… as none of those motives serve in raising the child.

In a recent post, I discussed the problem of when we become fixated on a problem. Fixating on a problem can look different ways, but it boils down to emotional frustration that blocks solutions. It is hard for a solution to show up as long as we are fixated on the problem.

In Men in Black 3, agents J and K were searching for the villain but didn’t know where to look. K said, “let’s have some pie”. J was frustrated and berated K for such irresponsible behavior—having pie while a killer is on the loose— but eventually relented. As they finished eating, the solution popped into their heads and they knew what to do next! K took a time out to become receptive to the solution.

Time outs are incredibly valuable, and not just for children. And they are a learned skill… children need to be taught it… problems have their own gravitational pull; even adults find it difficult to step away.

As parents, we need to recognize when our kids could benefit from mental pause to cool down. And—as a parent— time outs are best implemented not as a punishment nor for any other selfish reasons, but rather as a lesson in the value of stepping away from a problem in order to become receptive to the solution.

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