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CYC-Online Issue 45 OCTOBER 2002 / BACK
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in a nutshell

Time out / Time in

Henry Maier

This month I would like to share my concern about the use of “time-out." Serious conflicts arise frequently between the child and peers or between the worker and youngster in his or her charge. Formerly, it was considered a cause/effect “therapeutic" technique to isolate the child when his or her behavior was really out of control or unacceptable.

Presently I find it most discouraging, in fact frightening, to note that in so many corners of the care fields time-out is regularly used. It is assumed that the caregiver may feel at a loss as to how to proceed and that time-out creates an opportunity for the worker to distance him or herself and the child.

But we have learned since that meeting the conflict directly by the worker provides an immediate opportunity to help work out differences. In fact, a time-out correction might duplicate earlier experiences in which the child has felt that he or she was not wanted, while the caregiver appears to signify that he or she does not have sufficient empathy for the child's situation. Asking a youngster to be away from the worker and removed from the group serves only to intensify previous feelings of rejection.

In place of time-out what the care receiver needs is time-in with the caregivers so they can work out their differences. It would be an opportunity for the worker to admit that he or she is momentarily at a loss for how to proceed. At this point it is more important than ever that they work together to get through the differences at hand.

An illustration might be in place. In a bedroom for five youngsters as they prepare to go to bed one nine-year-old child becomes too hyper, jumping from bed to bed, making it impossible to have a congenial going-to-bed period. In such an instance, the worker can remove himself with the bed-jumping youngster and explore with him what made him so agitated and what could make him prepared to settle down. A cooling-off might be achieved by a short interlude of tossing a ball or Frisbee to each other. In this intimate exchange between worker and child, both would have maintained their power positions.

The major issue is not to shun the child; rather it is to acknowledge that there's a need for an intimate time, in which both can begin to learn skills for potential understanding and possible compromise. Time-in begins to achieve this end.

If readers differ with my contentions I shall be glad to learn of their perspectives.


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