Your Arms; A Prison or a Refuge?

I read something today that got me thinking about time out and parenting styles with regards to this form of punishment.  This is a huge topic and I’m not going to cover all of it, but I did want to touch upon one thing in particular because of the article I read.

I’m not going to site the article, because I don’t want the author to feel slighted.  While I absolutely disagree with her, I respect that processes, while not my own, clearly work for her family.  I am not writing this to bash her or put her down, only to address this method and why I don’t care for it.  You are welcome to chime in, I’d love to know what you think!

To sum up, the article was about her process for teaching her small children, very young toddlers, to sit still for long periods of time.  I was interested, as we had just last night gone to see my nephew in his winter concert with my two children now three and five years old.  They did remarkably well!  The Padawan, who is now five, sat with his daddy, leaning up against his chest and listening to the music quietly the entire time.  The Punkin at just under three and a half was, naturally, a little less interested.  She sat quietly, cuddling on my lap for the first 10 minutes.  She quickly became bored, begged to leave and go back home to put on her Ariel nightgown.  Since she loves being artistic, I pulled out a marker from my purse and handed it to her with the event program so she could draw.  She loved this idea and sat quietly for a several minutes, but then wanted another color.  I gave her a regular ball-point pen and she continued.  Suddenly, the pen stopped working.  Why wasn’t the pen working?  Fix it, mama!  What’s wrong, she asked… all at regular volume during the 6th grade orchestra rendition of a Christmas medley.  With every word that was above a whisper, the women in front of me would pull a sharp head turn, just enough to let me know they were displeased.  You know the one… the sharp, patronizing, half smile/fake laugh look at the child making more noise than they would prefer but taking great care NOT to look me in the eye… now, if Punkin had been screaming, being angry, throwing a fit, whining or doing ANYthing even remotely disruptive or annoying, I would have understood those reactions.  I also would have removed her immediately.  But that’s not what was happening.  She was simply asking for help with a pen, asking where he cousin was going (who had just left the stage with the rest of his choir), asking when she could go home and if I could let her sit on her own chair instead of on my lap.  Oh, to be fair, at one point she was a bit frantic about having to use the potty, but over all, she was calm and did not act out or get so upset that she broke down.  Yet, even then… these ladies needed to make sure I was clearly aware of their condescending disapproval. Because, you know, a Jr. High winter concert is exactly like the Metropolitan Opera and I should have known better than to allow small children to attend such a prestigious performance. *insert eye roll*

So anyway, back to this article… in it, the honest and proud mom shares her process of teaching her small toddlers to sit still and behave in any scenario.  She explains how she would establish a reading time with them and force them to stay on her lap until the story was finished. Eventually, she explains, through much practice, struggle and tears, they became experts at sitting still.

She expressed a crucial point that I agree with 100%, and that is patience creates patience.  Parents must patiently work with their children and model the behavior they wish their children to emulate.  If a child does not get practice doing a thing, they won’t learn how to do it, so by working with them daily on reading time and quiet time activities, eventually, they became good at it.  They easily shifted into that quiet time mode and were able to listen, follow directions and be attentive.

That is, unfortunately, about where I drew the line in my ability to agree with her process.

She went on to explain how, if they became disruptive in church, she would take them out and hold them tightly until they stopped acting out. That way, she reasoned, they would learn that moving, squirming or otherwise acting like a normal child was not to be tolerated in that environment.  She also wrote her article with an air of “look what I did and how easy it was”, with a follow up of, “everyone should do this because quiet children are the best!”  This is the part I didn’t much care for.

Perhaps I’m a bit… “new age”, or, maybe it’s that pesky psychology degree worming its way into these decisions, but the process she explains seems draconian and, while she’s not encouraging hitting, withholding food or other necessities, as I have read some parents do, I’ll be honest, it created a mental image that was, while likely unintentional, a bit cruel. By the time I was finished reading, all I could say to myself was a big, fat NO. No, and no again and to make sure we’re perfectly clear here, just no.

I read somewhere, when the Padawan was small; never let your arms become a prison.  The passage was speaking to the tendency we as parents have, to wrap up our children in a vice grip when they are acting out and hold them as punishment until they sit still.  Many parents do “time out” by holding their children tightly, not letting them to move or speak and, just like a Chinese finger trap, the more the child squirms, the tighter their prison becomes.  Eventually, the child realizes their parent does not hold them in love, but is holding them as punishment.

When a child is held by a parent during punishment time or time out, I realized they are basically being hugged against their will.  When I look at it this way, it has all sorts of negative implications that, I believe, cannot be ignored.

Instead of this popular disciplinary method, these experts offered an alternative process for time out in which a child is sent to a quiet spot in the house to calm down, within consistent eye-shot, but never physically bound by the parent.   Reviewing the various processes used to implement the concept of “time out” over the years, I have realized how unhealthy many of the procedures can be for children in so many different ways.   The physical holding of the child throughout their entire punishment timeframe was, by far, the most unhealthy “time out” option out there that did not involve corporal punishment.  Now, by unhealthy, I don’t mean physically dangerous.  By holding onto a child and forcing them to sit still by restraining them, you are teaching many unintentional lessons from body safety, to a misunderstanding of human touch, to learning that compliance and submission is better than their own feelings or sense of personal space.  These lessons, given by well-intentioned parents, are simply not teaching what they believe the children are learning.  There are darker lessons hidden within these processes and if we are not careful, our attempt to teach them to fall in line will be the very thing that kicks them out of line altogether or sets them on a path with perceptions of good and bad touch that can be destructive and confusing.

Here’s the way I see it;

A child who is continuously quiet, sits still and is docile on command is a blessing to anyone who only wanted children to be ornaments atop their own, shining ego.  There is absolutely nothing positive about this process of literally holding down or restraining a child until they give up trying to break free and therefore, becomes compliant.

A parent’s loving arms should never be a cage or you will find them continually trying to become free of it, often in ways you never expected.  This process, described by this mama, is psychologically dangerous and I recommend against it.  Especially if it turns out your child (who is acting like a normal toddler, by the way) is continually disruptive due to a deeper issue such as Autism or another processing/developmental disorder.

Perhaps her advice would be beneficial if we still lived in Victorian England, but here in 2015, we know better than to use these archaic disciplinary methods simply to make our lives easier and to show off our parenting skills to others.

It is unfortunate when a mother who has so many followers on her blog feels the need to boast such a terrible practice.  I hope other mothers who read her step-by-step guide to creating a compliant child will realize the dangers within it and choose another, more modern and enriching process for their families.

And with that, I will leave you with this excerpt from The Strong-Willed Child, by James Dobson, Ph.D.:

“I get very upset because my two-year-old boy will not sit still and be quiet in church. He knows he’s not supposed to be noisy, but he hits his toys on the pew and sometimes talks out loud. Should I spank him for being so disruptive?” Dr. Dobson’s reply: “The mother who wrote this question during one of my seminars revealed a poor understanding of toddlers. Most two-year-olds can no more fold their hands and sit quietly in church than they could swim the Atlantic Ocean. They squirm and churn and burn every second of their waking hours. No, this child should not be punished. He should be left in the nursery where he can shake the foundations without disturbing the worshipers”.

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1 Comment

  1. I think you make a great point here. To many parents are concerned with children being seen and not heard when that is just not the way children operate. I read an article where the mother has a realization that getting angry at her daughter for dawdling when they were late for something was actually pretty terrible because she was denying the child the opportunity to explore in their own way. The mother was rigid in her scheduling and wasn’t leaving time for the kid to be a kid! They want to look at bugs or explore their surroundings and ask questions, that’s a good thing! We can’t expect children to act like adults because they aren’t yet.

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