The Inner Landscape

Time Out

When #1 Son was a little fellow, I read a book about discipline that promoted the use of "Time Out." We set up a chair in the corner of the dining room, and it became The Time Out Chair. Briefly, we succeeded in curbing some little infractions. Honestly, this many years later, I have no idea what my little boy was doing wrong. I imagine we were having a battle of the wills.

Soon, though, he began having nightmares about, you guessed it, The Time Out Chair. In these terrible night visions, The Time Out Chair chased him around the house. (You’ll have to ask him if it laughed maniacally, MWAHAHAHAHA!!!)

I grappled with how to discipline him after that. I grew up in the South at a time when spanking was not only permissible but encouraged. How else, parents wondered, shall we keep our children in line? Because in line was exactly the place children were supposed to be kept.

I have raised children in a much freer and therefore more challenging time. Always, always I wonder, what sort of discipline is truly necessary? I want them to find themselves, to flourish and bloom, to make their way in the world unhampered by conventions for their own sake.

Churches used to employ discipline, and maybe some still do, but in the free church tradition that is part of the mainline, we have come to a point of expecting to have no boundaries at all in terms of the behavior of church members. I think it is in part a healthy openness, but also in part an enormous fear of asking anyone to do anything that might cause them to leave.

Some years ago I belonged to a large church in conflict. A letter came to my house, many pages long, listing all the things for which a certain group of people blamed the pastor.

The letter was anonymous.

Somehow this collection of professional couples had organized a mailing, using all sorts of then-popular direct mail techniques, but not a one of them would put his or her name on the letter.

I once read a book on discipline that said, "Never spank in anger." I thought to myself, "When else would you want to?"

My eventual approach to discipline, cobbled together from books and experience and love, revolves around stating expectations and naming consequences. Rarely have we reached the second point. I am therefore baffled when I meet people who do not understand the principle that actions have consequences. I am baffled when I meet people who think that whatever they might like to do is okay simply because they feel like doing it. And yet I grapple with this in myself, the tendency to justify a choice or a desire, and I realize that my own decisions are not always ideal.

I grew up with discipline comprised of shaming and physical punishment. My own children found it just as painful to be sent to their rooms. I wonder what the future will hold for them? Will they be more open-minded and find some clever new means for raising civilized and compassionate children? Or will the pendulum swing back?

My own self-discipline tends to be like the discipline I received as a child, much as I would reject it for another. A childhood of getting the blame for everything makes me want to avoid taking responsibility unless I feel sure I can get it "right." This does not always work out, naturally.

Maybe I can learn to give myself a time out instead.

20 thoughts on “Time Out”

  1. Miss Sweetie,
    You are not to blame. No, no, no. Isn’t it so easy and insidious to take it on? I do a lot of that because I feel that my role is to make everything okay…internalize the bad, tap dance really fast so no one notices the fighting and shouting. That’s what I learned, growing up. It actually made me feel VERY powerful!
    I am working on taking those bad, bad feelings (and the power!) and putting them into the really big hands of God as I imagine God. (She is wearing purple today, just so you know).
    It’s a great grief to me that I can’t fix things. That goes to God’s hands, too.
    Maybe God’s lap could be your time out chair?
    love you

  2. Shaming is so very powerful. That’s how I was punished, too. Not disciplined, punished. It didn’t teach me right from wrong, it taught me that I am *cr@p*.
    I too am baffled by the idea that actions do not have consequences. Nothing in my human experience backs up that idea. That is certainly not what I am trying to teach my kids, either.
    Maybe we are breaking a powerfully destructive cycle.
    It’s hard, painful work, isn’t it?

  3. I cannot imagine your being bad enough to warrant punishment.
    I deal with people each and every day that do not understand that actions equal consequences. And that actions and consequences can be good.

  4. Thank you, Songbird, as always, for a deeply thoughtful post. It connects with some thinking I’m doing on an incident that occurred on our mission trip just before vacation. And I appreciate your voice being added to my head.
    Thinking of you, dear one.

  5. I cannot help but think of situations at school and life that address these very same issues. Thanks for this timely posting – lots to chew on as I begin school next week!

  6. Oh Songbird, don’t put yourself in time out! It’ll give you the same nightmares it gave #1 Son when he was a little guy. I’ve always thought that being expelled to the timeout chair was worse than being spanked.
    My children had a lovely teacher when they were small who would lead them to a chair and say some version of, “We don’t ____ in this class. It hurts people/things/feelings. Sit here until you feel better and then you can come right back. We’ll be waiting for you.” Sort of like timeout, but without the shunning.

  7. I think time out, if approached right, is a very powerful thing—it is what it is: time out, to get your stuff together so you can rejoin polite society. now the naughty chair—I’m not so fond of that!

  8. I tried time out briefly with Hattie Gandhi, but since the only place I could banish her effectively was her bedroom, and that was the place where her books were to be found, she’d never choose to rejoin society as she was too happy in her exile.
    So that was that.
    Please, no naughty chair for Songbird…just lots and lots of hugs and love

  9. Songbird, I totally relate to your observation: My own self-discipline tends to be like the discipline I received as a child, much as I would reject it for another. I wrestle with this daily. Why is it such a relief to have something like this named so clearly? Thank you!
    p.s.–I still want to see a picture of those cute walmart shoes!!!!

  10. Yes, young lady, it’s a time out for you. You are to go sit in a bubble bath with a lovely glass of wine and listen to soothing music. And don’t come out till you’ve forgotten why you had to go in. ((()))

  11. thank you for sharing this songbird. I struggle with what is the right thing to do, but don’t have to make the decisions you guys do.

  12. If I remember correctly Freud calls this aspect of our psyche the “Super-ego” because it functions to keep our “drives” in check. Whenever I feel this way (which is more often than I care to admit) I try to remember that something in me is checking out reality…and that in the process it may just be overworking…so, just because I feel some way, some thing, it doesn’t mean it’s true. I think women are more prone to this (feeling responsible for everything, especially when things go “wrong”) than men, but that may not be true. Anyway, you articulate it well. I’m sad and sorry you are struggling with this right now, but hope you are able to see through it and embrace your integrity, thoughtfulness, and compassion – that is what I see coming through in you, and not anything “wrong”.

  13. The term “discipline” actually stems from the word “disciple” — the whole point is (or should be) to form children by our example, to make them our disciples if you will.
    I think it clear that your parents saw discipline merely as punishment. I think it equally clear that you strive to make discipline more than that for your own children.
    Peace to you.

  14. Of course actions have consequences. And, what’s more even when we forgive and are forgiven the consequences can remain!
    It’s important to teach this , but also know if for ourselves. And what CH said …it’s painfully hard to break the cycle

  15. This is a very old post by now—positively *ancient* in blog-years 🙂 but since we in our house are dealing with little ones and discipline these days, I’ve read that the new spin on time out is that it’s not a punishment, but the time out chair is a sort of sanctuary. It’s a place that the child can get some distance and think through the choices he/she is making (and/or get away from the child that’s provoking the behavior). Some people call it the thinking chair. Obviously this is for an age when they can consider consequences more—our M is too young to use time out that way.
    We are big believers in the distraction/redirection method, but we also have been blessed with kids (so far) who have responded to those tactics. But I find myself needing a time-out chair in the “new” sense of the word! A little breathing space. In fact if I were to use such a technique with our littles, that’s probably what I’d call it.
    May you have breathing space that’s free from shame, no matter where it is.

  16. Hmmmm….
    One church staff I was on also got one of these lovely “poison pen letters.” It was also anonymous. I didn’t get to read it. It got to three staff members (who were all furious) and then the Sr Pastor got it and took it straight to the shredder. He told us all firmly that the next anonymous letter that ANY of us opened should go straight to the shredder. NO name. No voice. No credibility. Positive or negative.
    I’ve always wondered about that… but I think I see the wisdom.
    From all that you have been under lately, I pray peace. And joy. And rest.

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