Although timeouts can seem like a much better alternative to physical punishment, they're still not a great option for children in the long run.
In Alfie Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting, he provides research that shows a punishment-based approach to compliance (including timeouts), is damaging to children's emotional development.
Here are the 3 reasons why:
Timeouts are isolating and can feel like a “withdrawal of love” - All children need to feel unconditional love and acceptance. This is essential to growing into confident and secure adults.
Timeouts can result in our children feeling isolated. They tell our children "when you do something I don't like, I don't want to be around you."
It teaches children that power can be used to force your will - Teaching through punishment and use of power teaches our children that you can get your way by asserting control over those less powerful than you.
It causes children to focus on themselves - A large part of our job as parents is to guide our children in developing empathy, social skills, and morals.
Children who are punished, will focus on the results of that action on themselves rather than the impact it had on other people. When put in timeout, they're not going to be thinking about what they can do differently next time, but rather how they can do it next time without getting caught. It also often causes negative feelings, like anger, towards other involved in the incident.
So what can we offer children that will support their development into healthy, caring adults?
A Montessori Peace Corner is a wonderful alternative to timeouts.
What is a Peace Corner?
It's simply a quiet space for a child to be alone. It's a place meant to help them relax, reflect, and rest.
The goal is for the child to feel calm in this space, to know that they can go to this space when they need a break.
As with most things in a Montessori environment, it is for the child. It is not a space for adults and it's not punitive. In fact, it loses its purpose once it becomes punitive.
How To Set Up a Peace Corner At Home
You don't have to overthink it. The picture below is the peace corner is my oldest son's Pre-Casa classroom.
It's very simple, with just a few cushions and some books, but you can customize it to your child. Here's a few suggestions:
Cozy space - soft carpet and pillows. Some Montessori classrooms have a ‘peace table’ so doesn’t necessarily have to be a cozy corner.
Bookshelf - it's good to have quiet activities and books are an easy option.
Quiet toys - your child might enjoy a small basket of quiet toys like a stuffed animal, sensory bottle, smooth stone, sand timer, etc. Older children might enjoy fidget toys in their peace corner.
Low hanging art - beautiful or interesting art at the child’s height when seated can be a calming addition. Katie mentioned that one year she added an ‘I spy’ poster to the wall and the kids loved it.
For an older toddler (2.5+), you could ask them what they want to keep in their peace corner and include them in preparing it. This makes it even more meaningful for them.
How To Intro Your Child to the Peace Corner
Typically, a child will choose to go to the peace corner whenever they need or want to and it’s always available.
In the classroom, sometimes a teacher will initiate it. You can do this at home too, if you feel like your child needs a break. Toddlers and preschoolers are developing their self-regulation skills and require guidance.
When you’re 2 and don’t have the life experience or language skills to understand or express how you feel, it can be hard to know when you’re overstimulated.
You can say things like “Do you want to go have some time in the peace corner?” or “Let’s go to the peace corner and take a break. Should I read us a story?”. Both are said in a positive tone, not as a threat.
The child is also always allowed to say no.
You want to create positive associations with it so that the child wants to go there and recognizes it as a place to be calm. It will eventually become one of their self-regulation strategies, i.e. “I’m so angry, I need some time alone in the peace corner so I can feel better.”
In Casa Classrooms, peace corners are occasionally used for conflict resolution between 2 children. It's the same idea, you're providing a safe space for them to talk about how they feel but in this case an adult would facilitate the conversation between children until they reach an age where they can talk it through themselves. You could use a similar strategy with older children.
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