Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is time out the Pre-K version of solitary confinement?

(I remember my trainer Ginni at the AMI Conference in Houston this year repeating- "You don't normalize children by sending them to time out!")

Maybe it's a huge stretch, but last week I read a great article in the New Yorker about solitary confinement (titled "Hellhole") and it reminded me of Alan Kazdin's article about how time out can be an ineffective behavior altering technique. The maximum penalty given to adult humans when they are extremely anti-social is solitary confinement, and in many cases, the maximum penalty given in my classroom when a child is extremely unsocialble (aka. violent) is to be separated from the group and basically put in "time out." Both articles agree that isolating a human is ineffective if the goal is to rehabilite a person's behavior.

When I thought about it in simple terms it makes sense. How can I help children be more sociable by isolating them from the group? What do they learn in time out? I honestly don't think that they "think about what they did wrong." Maybe they calm down a little if they were upset, but then they get distracted with other things. Time out doesn't cure their problem or fix their behavior. That is clear. I guess I use it as a last resource when I don't know what else to do.

Then I read the article about criminals in the hole, and about how in England they don't use solitary confinement, but instead give the most antisocial guys the opportunity to be more social. More phone calls, more visits, exercise, education. They claim it's working over there. Apparently they have fewer people in solitary confinement in their whole country than the total of dudes in the hole in just the state of Maine.

So yesterday, I sat down with Sayenne and we came up with a plan of what to do instead of just time out to actually help the children who wind up in time out. How are we going to adapt our England based plan? We made a list of little social extra activities that we could offer to the little ones that need lots of practice socializing positively... Here's some of what we came up with:

- To invite the children to go outside one by one.
- To make the "Thank You" cards for visitors and guests.
- To take care of our school pets.
- To serve the water outside at the end of the day.
- To open the gate for the others as children arrive in the morning.
- To dismiss the children at the end of the day.
- To guide the classroom clean up.

The emphasis we decided, has to be on these activities being positive social experience. Not an opportunity for bullying or teasing. So at the beginning, not only do we have to show the child exactly what we want him/her to do, but stay close to monitor it in case we have to step in. Hopefully, the logic seems to dictate that if we give the children who have most trouble socializing well more chances to do so, they will get better at it eventually!

We also agreed that it will be necessary to have the parents in on this. If there is a social group (parents and teachers) around the child trying to help them overcome a behavior, it seems there is a better chance for success.

This week we try this out!


Annicles said...

This is so brilliant! It is something we face at school, particularly this last week as we had a lot of tired children ready for the half-term holiday!

What do you do as soon as the behaviour has happened? My head (The Boss!) has a mantra that we hear constantly -"keep the child close". It very much echoes what you have written, that to isolate the child helps no-one. We have talked it through many times because i found it hard to get my head around initially. Basically what we do is rather than put the child into time out s/he is removed from what they were doing (having pointed out that they have hurt the other child) and come and sit by me or The Boss. We choose them a peice of work we know works for that child to engage and centre him/her (often scrubbing the butchers block) and the child does the work beside us. We carry on with what we were doing. This gives the child who has hit out the chance to centre and regroup, supported by the presence of an adult. There is no talking at this point because they usually know what they did and don't need another lecture. At the right moment we then turn to the child and quietly say something like " do you know why x was cying?" This leads into a short conversation about hands are for working, mouths are for kind words etc and an invitation to apologise. Usually this is enough and the child rejoins the class. If it isn't then s/he stays close by the teacher until s/he doesn't need the support any more.

It sounds very soft and gentle and in a way it is but it also means there is no escape from the consequences of hitting and there is no rejection or withdrawal of support from the adults.

I was sceptical but it is actually a rather robust way of dealing with behaviour and has worked far better than time outs.

Lindart said...

I have a very volatile and violent child in my class. It is his first year, and he attacks randomly with no provocation, and angers for seemingly no reason. I have found that it really helps him to go to a "cool down" spot to read until he feels he is ready to rejoin the group. One cool down spot is away from the children, one on a chair in the classroom. He can choose his spot. They know it's not "time out" as they have the freedom to return when they are feeling better. We can also talk about how to solve his problem (if he has one) when he is calm and thinking properly. This has really helped.The books in the cool down spots are all about feelings, love, coping with anger, etc. I have read most of them in class, although this child can read, and often reads several each time he's in cool down. He used to be in cool down several times a day, but now it's only once a day, around 10:30, he just needs a break from it all. He often goes there on his own now. I often don't have to ask him to go. Some of the other children also visit these spots just for a break, and even when they are upset they will go on their own to calm down. I think everyone needs a place to go when they are upset! I know I do!
I also have given more responsibilities to the children in my class. I originally made the tasks just for the volatile child, but he has shared the tasks with his friends. They include taking down the chairs in the morning, holding the door when the children come inside, getting the calendar and numbers for circle, turning on the music (we play classical to drown out the noise of the children upstairs. It doesn't need to be very loud to do that). The tasks themselves didn't seem to help him much, but I do think he enjoys the camaraderie of sharing the tasks and being accepted as part of the group.

melissa said...

Great ideas, Susanne!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing these thought. We have a note up in our kitchen at home that reads :

"Gently redirect their energies. Give them Time in. Close time, not Time out"

- but we still fall for it more often than I would like to. What I really like about your post is that idea of giving them more 'social time'. Hmmm... I will be keeping that in mind & trying my own experiments too. I've been reading recently about the negative effects of 'shaming' children, even indirectly ( ) & that seems to really tie into this concept... when we send them away we're shaming them, especially if we do it with negative emotion.

Thanks :)