The GBD Alternative to Traditional Time-Outs

Punitive parenting is adversarial. It pits parents against children in what many punitive experts openly refer to as a war. Even Dr. Phil talks about “picking your battles” and warns parents that when you pick them you had better make sure that you “win” them. But as Christians we are told that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of this present darkness. We are told that Satan is “The Adversary”, not our children. In fact, our children are in the position of being our brothers and sisters in Christ. The “rod”, the “Shebet”, is properly used when it’s used to beat off the adversary–the wolf attacking the sheep and the devil attacking our children. It’s not for hitting sheep or children.

But why not time outs?

It’s actually a good question when the AAP has advocated for Time Outs as a preferred alternative to corporal punishment. In truth, if the choice is between a spanking and a time out, I’d suggest the time out. But that’s not the only choice! Both are rooted in a punitive mindset.

 People who feel good act good while people who feel bad act bad.

A punishment is something that is added on to teaching to cause the child to feel bad with the underlying belief that only by feeling bad can they learn. But, in fact, they learn lots of things without feeling bad. They learn to walk and talk and spell their own name without requiring punishment, so the argument that they can’t learn if they don’t feel bad is completely unfounded.

In fact, a basic belief in GBD and PD is that people who feel good act good while people who feel bad act bad. So when a child is acting bad it is illogical to think that making them feel worse will somehow get them to act better.

Of course I’m speaking of classic time outs here. Or, thanks to Supernanny, what is sometimes referred to as a “naughty place.” The way this works is that a child is separated from the family and ignored for a time that is equal to 1 minute per age of the child. The child is told that they are bad/naughty/misbehaving/etc and the parent will get them when the time is up. They are instructed to “think about” what they have done wrong. Supernanny insists on an apology at the end .

There are several punitive aspects to this.

While Supernanny allows for young children to be viewable by the family, traditional time outs, and her Naughty Room for older children, require that the child be isolated away from the family during the time out. This gives the clear message to a child that acceptance in the family is conditional upon their behavior. If it is not acceptable they are rejected; if it is acceptable, they are accepted. For many children this translates into a message of conditional love. Also, while introverted children may respond okay to forced isolation, for many extroverted children this is traumatic.

The one-minute-per year is an arbitrary time. There is no guarantee that a child will be calmed down in that time, and other children will calm down long before that time is over.

A time-out gives the clear message to a child that acceptance in the family is conditional upon their behavior.

When an apology is required to leave the time out or naughty place this is a forced apology and not a true indicator of a child’s remorse. They are taught that an apology is a negotiating tool and not taught empathy or remorse.

In place of classic time outs, there are many GBD tools that provide actual teaching and do not have the punitive aspects.

GBD is an entire paradigm shift. Children are not viewed as “naughty.” Parents and children aren’t in battles that must be won.

Since people who feel good act good, one goal of GBD is to help people feel good. Now, happy isn’t the only acceptable emotion, and there’s lots of opportunity to use tools like reflecting feelings. The way that people learn how to feel good is to be equipped with tools that they can use to exercise self control in difficult situations. Taking a break, or what is sometimes referred to as a “Positive time out” is one way to do that.

As a means for providing this, I recommend a Comfort Corner.

A Comfort Corner is a space in the common area of a home that is set up to be a retreat for a child (or an adult). It’s a place they can go to step out of a situation, take a break, regroup. There are things there that provide them with comfort–stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, music, books, whatever will bless your child. Let them help design it if you want. It can be as simple as a chair with a blanket, or as complex as a room under the stairs full of options.

Some will argue that this is rewarding poor behavior, but if you aren’t actively slapping high-fives and saying “awesome” about their poor behavior then you aren’t rewarding or encouraging it. I’ve never thanked my child for yelling or said that if they did I’d give them ice cream.

One illustration relevant to adults is this one.  If I were to come over and you had been having a bad day and not behaving well (maybe grousing or yelling at the kids, not doing your responsibilities around the house, etc) which of the following ways would you prefer me to respond?

1) “I’m disgusted at the way you’ve been behaving today. Your children deserve better than this. What kind of a mother do you think you are? You need to go into your room for 30 minutes (1 minute per year ) and really think about how bad you are. I will come and get you in 1/2 hour and then I will be nice to you.”


2) “Wow, you’re having a bad day. How about I watch the kids for a bit and you go get a cup of coffee and take a break? Come back when you’re feeling better and if you want to talk about what’s going on we can do it then.”

When a child is sent to the Comfort Corner the only rule is that you don’t talk about why they were sent when they are there, and they may come out when they are ready to rejoin the family and be cooperative.

For older children there may be a need for a tool called “you hit, you sit”. When children get aggressive and violent it’s appropriate to stop their bodies and give them a chance to get their brain back in control. If you have a Comfort Corner they can be sent there, or even just sitting on the couch until they are ready to be calm in their play and make amends.

I do teach children how to apologize, including the words “I’m sorry”, but more importantly the words, “Will you forgive me?” And I teach all of my children how to forgive — because forgiveness is about casting off the burden of unforgiveness and going on with your life at peace with others. When you wrong someone you owe them a debt. Making amends is about taking responsibility and doing what you can to pay that debt. We can never undo our actions, but making an effort to repay the debt we owe someone teaches personal responsibility for our actions and is much more important than the ability to say an empty “I’m sorry.”

Saying “I’m sorry” might be part of making amends. There may also be a need to offer a gentle touch to make amends for a violent one, to return a toy and offer an additional one where a toy was taken, to do a kind act where unkindness was done. I have the offending child ask the offended child what kind thing they can do to help them feel better.

GBD is about working to proactively prevent the situations that would result in time outs.

Mostly, GBD is about working to proactively prevent the situations that would result in time outs. Knowing our children well enough allows us to structure situations to set them up for success. Using the 5 Steps makes instructions non-optional and has built in “help” if the child is not able to accomplish something themselves. Ultimately, rather than an adversarial relationship, GBD equips parents to be the coaches on the family team. There may be a time during a sporting event where someone is pulled off the field to take a Positive Time Out, or have a break, regain their cool and get ready to go back on the field. Something is very broken on the team when someone is thrown from the game in a negative time out.

When you view your family as a team it’s much easier to see that when one person fails, we all fail, but when one person succeeds, we all succeed. Success for all is the goal.

Applying The Five Steps

Remember The 5 Steps are a Tool, not a Rule.

I’m often asked about using The 5 Steps with children. I wanted to take a moment to explain some of the issues that come up in applying them, as well as how I use them with different children at different ages and stages.  Remember The 5 Steps are a Tool, not a Rule.  They are not designed to be a formula for behavior modification, but rather they are a tool for guiding children through situations so that they can take ownership of their own behavior and choices as they mature.

I am often asked about situations that require immediate attention.  For instance, I do not use all 5 steps with a toddler who has run into the street, especially if a car is coming.  I would move quickly to the toddler and use the wording of Step 1, “You need to stay out of the road. It’s dangerous to be in the road if a car comes,” WHILE DOING Step 4, helping, as I pick up the toddler and move him or take his hand and walk him to the side of the road.

Because I am consistent, the child learns more quickly…

This is also the combination of steps that I use when I am working to establish myself with a child.  That might mean I’m dealing with my baby and creating the foundation of our relationship.  A baby who gets her hand wrapped in my hair is going to hear, “You need to not pull Mommy’s hair. Gentle my hair,” WHILE I’m unwrapping my hair from her hand (Tip: if you gently press a baby’s hand in the palm she will release her grip and you can remove hair or other things from her hand).  It might also be what I do when I’m dealing with a 3yo who is persistent at something.  Every single time he jumps on the couch he will find me flying them to the floor (helping — Step 4) AS I’m telling him, “You need to keep your feet off the couch. Feet on the floor.”  Because I am consistent, the child learns more quickly that he will not be allowed to jump on the couch and stops trying, moving on to whatever his next persistent effort will be.

Sometimes the issue is more the personality of the child. Sometimes the issue is more what I’m addressing.  Sometimes the issue is maturity or readiness.  I fully believe that when children are able to understand and comply with the instruction and have the impulse control to do so, they will move to do it themselves with the wording of Step 1.  I expect them to show me when that readiness occurs.  It might be instant moving without a need to escalate the steps, or it might be a foot stomping “ME DO!” from a toddler.  Either way, I let them do it themselves and rejoice in the fact that they are maturing and I don’t have to help with everything anymore.  If they move into a new stage of pushing limits or events change in their life and they are pushing limits because they feel unsafe, I have no problem shortening the gap and moving back to a truncated version.

I must also admit that even I sometimes need help with some things.

The goal is to have teenagers who respond without help to Step 1, even though sometimes Step 2 is necessary.  I must also admit that even I sometimes need help with some things.  My husband laughs when I’m eating one of my favorite treats and don’t want to stop and eventually look at him and say, “Please help me stop — I need help.”  We laugh as he takes the plate away.  Sometimes it’s just too hard to find that self-control.

It also has to be okay to fail.  When people don’t believe it is safe for them to fail, they don’t ask for help in advance of failure and they work double time to hide their failure. This results in scandals.  I don’t want to raise adults who end up in scandals. I want to raise adults who know their personal limitations, and areas of greatest temptation; I want to raise adults who can and do ask for help when it’s needed; I want to raise adults who know it’s safe to fail, but also know how to succeed.

The language of The 5 Steps is respectful and assigns responsibility where it belongs.  It is kind and firm.  There are situations that require us to be firm and kind.  The 5 Steps are adaptable. Remember: they are a Tool, not a Rule!

Foreword by Dr. William Sears

Foreword to Biblical Parenting:

Christian parents have been accustomed to thinking about discipline as punishment – something you do to a child rather than something you do with a child. However, discipline is more about developing the right relationship with your child rather than the right techniques. Throughout this book you will learn how the “rod verses” are grossly misinterpreted, and that you don’t have to spank your child to be a godly parent. Besides there being no biblical basis for spanking, in my thirty years in pediatric practice I have rarely seen spanking work. Instead, it creates a distance between parent and child, plants a seed of anger (and sometimes violence) in the child, and often tends to worsen a child’s behavior. It is also interesting that the “rod verses” are only mentioned in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Christ taught a gentler approach, as stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:21:  “Shall I come to you with the rod, or in love and with a gentle spirit?”

Throughout this book you will learn that discipline is creating an attitude within the child and an atmosphere in the home that makes spanking unnecessary. Scripture is clear that parents are to be authority figures for their children. Yet, authority begins with developing a mutual trust between parent and child:  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart.”  (Proverbs 22:6)  This implies that parents know the individual bent of their child. To teach your child to trust you, and to become an expert in your child, begins with practicing a style of parenting we call attachment parenting.  Throughout this book you will learn how this style of parenting helps you get behind the eyes of your child and direct behavior from within rather than applying force on the outside.  Attachment parenting will help you teach your child how to develop inner controls.  You will also learn that attachment parenting does not mean permissive parenting. On the contrary, one of the “B’s” (in addition to the other B’s of birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, belief in baby’s cries, and bedding close to baby) is balance – knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”  Attachment parenting implies a balance between meeting the child’s needs and also saving enough energy to meet the needs of your marriage.  Finally, it is my hope that in reading this book parents will discover the true joy of living with a well-disciplined child.

–Dr. William Sears, author of The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Childcare

Words as Magic

One of the questions I am asked most often about parenting young children is what to do when they lie. I believe this demands some attention and it covers quite a few areas of parenting so let’s tackle it here.

Imagine your 2 year old walks into the room and has evidence of having eaten a cookie all over her face. You ask her if she ate a cookie and she says no. 

Do you really have a huge problem on your hands and are you the parent of a liar?  I do not believe so at all.

So if your 2 year old isn’t lying about the cookie what are they doing?

They are entering the words as magic stage and the more you learn about it the better you will be able to teach and enjoy your child while they are in this stage.

Two year olds are becoming able to do things on their own and they are proud to do them. They are also eager to please their parents and very concerned when they fail to please them. When a toddler perceives that they have displeased you they will seek to make things right and they truly believe that their words have power. Words are magic to them. When they ask for things, they get them. When you tell a story they experience it. And when your 2 year old says they didn’t eat the cookie they believe they have undone the act. With their words they have fixed the problem and Mommy can now be pleased.  And if a child really believes their words are making things so then they are not lying. They aren’t trying to deceive you into thinking they didn’t do something if they really believe that their words made it so it never happened.

If the child is firmly in this stage how can a parent teach honesty?

Thankfully the words as magic stage is ripe with opportunities to teach all sorts of moral and godly character lessons . . . including honesty. I’ve offered a few here and indicated what age example I’m using it with, but they are interchangeable and work for all ages and stages.  They might need some finessing for a particular age or a particular child but that is part of knowing your own child.

Natural Consequences (2 year old example):

If the 2yo who ate the cookie after being told not to was my child I would do a few specific things.

First, I’ve learned not to ask questions of my children when I already know the answer. So instead of asking if he ate the cookie I would say, “You ate the cookie. Mommy said not to eat the cookie and you did anyway.”

If they argued with me or tried to deny it I would state very honestly that I did not ask and I see that they ate the cookie. And I would then focus us on how the child could make amends. Perhaps the cookies were for after dinner and I would tell him that because he ate his cookie now he chose to eat his dessert early. Now there was not a cookie for him after dinner. When he was upset after dinner I would reflect and validate his feelings and without throwing in guilt. I would talk about how next time they could wait and eat the cookie when everyone else was eating theirs. I might talk about how wonderful it is to do things at the proper time or, if my child was really upset, I might stop talking and let the lesson teach itself.

Social Stories (4 year old example):

One of my favorite approaches to character training is to create fairy tales or fantasy stories that contain characters very similar to my own children, who have quite conveniently done something very similar to what they have done. As we develop the story we address the issue and teach the proper response and the dangers of an improper one.

For example, let’s imagine that a 4 year old has gotten frustrated and hit his 2 year old sister.  He denies having done so either because the parent asked if he did or because his sister is obviously hurt and crying and he’s trying to undo it.  Generally I do not specifically address the issue of honesty in the social story, though you could.  I prefer to address what actually happened and give the child real ways to change the situation without trying to rely on words as magic to change things.

 I might take them into the Comfort Corner and sit for a few minutes while reflecting their feelings (most likely the 2yo sister got into the 4yo’s things and possibly messed up the tower they were building with their legos). That is frustrating and that is upsetting and being sad and even angry is a normal feeling under the circumstances. To acknowledge and validate this is not the same as saying the way the child acted in their anger and frustration is acceptable. So once the child is calm I might say I’m going to tell them a story . . .

Once upon a time there was a little boy who was four years old. He was a builder of tall towers and he was very proud of the towers that he would build. He knew that his towers provided homes for little people and sometimes soldiers had to use his towers to fight for the good guys to win. They all appreciated that the little boy took time to build his towers and the world was right and good. One day the little boy had a sister and when his sister was 2 she started being the destroyer of towers. She didn’t realize the destruction she was doing but she loved to see the towers fall over. Every time a tower fell she squealed with delight. But every time a tower fell over some little people lost their home or some soldiers wouldn’t be able to win their fight for good. This really upset the little boy. He had worked so hard to build these towers and when his sister knocked them over he felt very big feelings. He was frustrated, he was angry, he was sad, and he was mad. Sometimes he would try to hold those feelings inside but they were so big that his body couldn’t hold them in. When that happened they would erupt out of him like a big volcano and they would fly all around the room. Usually they would knock over his little sister. Sometimes when that happened the little boy felt bad; sometimes he was glad it happened.

Usually by this point in the story my four year old would be verbalizing his affirmation and telling me what was right or altering the story. For example, he might correct the feelings that the little boy had, or he might insist he always felt bad when the sister was knocked over or that he was always glad. I adjust and alter the story as this information is shared so that the child more firmly relates to the little boy and what has happened. But because I have not identified him as the little boy it’s okay to listen—I sometimes refer to these sorts of teaching moments as going in the side door. And back to our story . . .

When the little boy would knock over his little sister with his big feelings his mommy would get very upset. She understood how hard he worked on his towers and she was sad that they were knocked over, but she wondered why the little boy didn’t use his words. He knew how to say things like, “Sister, stay away from my towers. Find something else to play with.” And he knew how to say, “MOMMY! Sister is getting into my stuff.” Even if he couldn’t think of his other words he knew the very powerful word, “HELP!” And mommy was always ready to help. When he didn’t use his words and his sister got hurt then his mommy would feel frustrated. Sometimes she might say words that she would feel bad about and then she would really understand how her little boy felt. Even big people sometimes don’t respond correctly. But how could this little boy have reacted when his towers were knocked over?

And at that moment I invite the child into the process as we move into problem solving solutions for next time. This serves two purposes. First, it helps me to understand how much they have matured in this process and how good they are getting at finding new solutions and second, it helps me to find out what solutions they already know and where to focus my energies in helping them put into practice what they have already learned. After this part of the story we go on . . .

Now that the little boy knew what to do next time the mommy reminded him of what he needed to do this time. Because he had done something that hurt his sister he needed to make things right with her. It’s not okay to hurt someone and not make amends. So the little boy went to his sister and said, “I’m sorry I hurt you.” And offered a hug to make things right. After they hugged and she forgave him they knew everything would be okay.

Coming back out of the story I would ask my child, “Are you ready to do what you need to do?” And prompt them as necessary to make amends with their sister. Effective discipline has taken place and now the child knows what to do next time. Even though they may forget, and may need more stories, this is the process of discipline. Teaching, teaching, teaching.

This same approach can be used with any situation where a child speaks untruth. The story may be about a little girl who ate a cookie after her mommy told her not to and when the mommy saw her and got upset the little girl felt bad about it and wanted to undo it. She tried to use her words to put the cookie back in the cookie jar. The mommy understood that the little girl felt bad but she also knew that the cookie was still in her daughter’s tummy. The little girl knew too. The story could introduce ways to make amends for not doing what mommy said and a plan could be made for the little girl in the story to be more successful at following rules next time.  And if untruth is a large problem and coming out in all sorts of areas the reliable “Boy Who Cried Wolf” can be used as a teaching moment or adapted into a social story involving a child just like yours.

 ( Social Stories are an invaluable resource for helping autistic children learn how to behave when in new social situations and I have merely adapted them. You can find books containing all sorts of social stories if you are struggling with creating your own.)

Teaching about language (especially between ages 6-8):

It is important when dealing with the issue of honesty to delve into the world of nuances in the use of language that as adults we too often take for granted. There is not just truth and lie. There are jokes, pranks, and tricks; there is sarcasm, irony, and exaggeration. As children mature they will need to learn to navigate all of these subtleties. Truth and untruth is merely the beginning.

Eventually my children start to learn about jokes and we play around at that for awhile. Inevitably this is followed by learning about tricks. I’m very clear with my children that jokes and tricks are only successful if everyone is having fun and laughing. It’s not a joke if it’s at someone else’s expense—that’s just mean. It’s not a trick if someone gets hurt on their body or in their feelings. And we work out the kinks in those areas of language. During this stage they always try out the untruth that, when caught, they assure me was, “Only joking.” Rather than getting angry I teach—and this is where we move into the difference between the truth and a lie! Because they are intentionally telling an untruth and covering up with the excuse of joking it’s time to really make sure they know what a lie is.  A lie is when you tell someone something that isn’t true and you do it to intentionally deceive them and protect yourself. This maturity with language becoming a focus, starting around age 5 or 6, is when I know my child is moving out of the words as magic stage.

With more obvious understanding of language comes greater accountability for how language is used.  It’s important to remember that we’re still learning and approach it as a coach or guide rather than with frustration at a lesson not yet fully learned.  When my child knows what a lie is from being in this stage I will ask them, “Is that a lie? Are you trying to deceive me (or whoever)?” and give them the same chance to own it and make amends they’ve had at every other stage up until now.  It’s important to learn that, even if they do lie, they still can and need to make things right and work things out.  If lying carries extra weight or consequence then they will not be motivated to move fully out of the words as magic stage—they need to understand that they can own their words, even when they make the wrong choices with them. They need to know that taking responsibility is how you fix things—even lies.

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How to address the issue of sin with children

First of all, I think there are two issues that are important to distinguish between when it comes to sin:

1. The impact of sin in the world and in our lives.  Jesus took care of this 100% and I always point my children towards Jesus as the only answer to their problem of sin (even though I don’t explain all of that to them too young)

2. The impact of actual sin actions which are damaging to ourselves and others and things that I *can* teach my children how to avoid. I keep my focus on what God gave me to do–introduce them to Him and teach them how to live.

I focus them always on what TO do. I do not talk about their actions as being sin. That leads to shame and is a heavy burden to put on a young child. I talk about what sin is–I start from the beginning with

 God tells us to live this way . . . . God says He wants us to . . . God designed our bodies to . . . .

At preschool ages, they ask spontaneously about what happens if they don’t live that way. My initial answer is that God says His children WILL live that way and those who don’t live that way aren’t his children. Everything is relationship focused and we talk about being children of God. Keep in mind, this is going on while teaching both factual sides of things AND making sure that they are, as much as possible, only able to do what is right.

They never have the choice to not do what I say and get punished–they are always going to do what I say and life may come to a screeching halt or go on parallel to them until that happens depending on the child and the issue, but they will do what was stated would be done. There isn’t another option.

I work to avoid the word “sin” in relation to what they are doing and instead focus on “what God wants us to do” and “God says we’re not to do that”, because “sin” is a more mature concept and a word that doesn’t have inherent meaning.  In this way, I’m giving them the understanding before I give them a name for it.

I’ve heard many people say they understood that sin is disobeying by the time they were 4, but this isn’t what sin means. This further emphasizes to me the importance of not introducing the word too early or without securely rooting it in a proper definition.

The age of eight is when pre-logic kicks in and it’s the first time that they start to really understand cause and effect in advance. With each child there has been something that was chosen intentionally.

This is obvious because their reaction to being caught reveals extreme guilt and embarrassment that, if I responded wrongly, would become shame and haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Instead of that response, I address it this way.

  • After praying, each time I have taken them aside and reminded them that we’ve talked about different things not being what God wants us to do, that they aren’t for His children to do.

  • I explain that what God says He wants in the lives of His children is like a target in front of us.  God asks parents to fly their children straight to the target and the target is Jesus.

  • “Sin” is a word that means “missing the mark”. So Jesus is the target and when you sin you aren’t flying straight.

  • I then explain to them that what they are feeling right now is guilt and embarrassment–and that feels bad, but it’s a good thing. It is what God gave them to help them know if they aren’t flying straight–if they are sinning. The only way to feel better is to acknowledge that what you’ve done goes against what God says to do, apologize to God and thank Him that He has already forgiven you and loves you, and then make amends to whoever you have wronged AND not do it anymore.

  • I explain that sin makes your heart feel dark and dirty and like you’ve covered Jesus’ light–but repentance (or turning around and flying straight to the target again) cleans up your heart and lets the light of Jesus shine bright again.

  • I then encourage them to pray and apologize to God, and thank Him for having already done so (because I believe that was 100% accomplished at the cross) and then we talk about everyone they wronged with their actions–me and/or daddy, whoever else was involved, etc.

  • Then we practice the script for how to go and apologize (a skill we’ve been working on since infancy but we practice how to apologize for this specific thing) and then I go with them while they make their own amends.  For the first time, I’m not going to help them do it if they get embarrassed or stuck. They take full responsibility for what they did.

This has been a HUGE turning point in each of my older children’s lives and understanding. It’s impacted them in such a deep and meaningful and non-shame based way. I believe they develop a healthy understanding of how sin works, what happens when we give in to our lusts of the flesh, the importance of flying straight and doing what God says His children will do–and because it’s for our own good, not some legalistic idea of being worthy or earning God.

My oldest is now 13 and my second oldest is right behind him at 11 and they are reflecting a very mature understanding of the importance of flying straight, making choices that are Godly, and living lives today that will take them on the path to where they want to be tomorrow.

I am confident that approaching the problem of sin this way has set them up for success and served to fly them straight—and created an opportunity to dialogue with them should they begin to veer off the path.