Why I'll never lock my daughter in the laundry

I know I'm sounding controversial with this week's blog title! But I'm not actually being that extreme - locking your child in the laundry is truly one of the discipline recommendations of one of the most widely accepted parenting approaches in Australia and overseas (it's called the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program).

While there are many good things about this program, I want to take issue with this recommendation.

Why do they tell parents to lock their kids in the laundry? This is a time-out - one of their main suggestions for controlling your kids when they get angry, have a tantrum or don't do what you tell them to.

First of all, let me ask you this: how do you feel when I say to you "When your child gets overwhelmed or angry, lock him/her in the laundry and leave him/her to cry there and only let them out when they have gone quiet"?

What's your gut feeling about whether this is (a) good for your child and (b) will teach him/her not to get angry or upset next time?

Thinking about this in the calm of this moment, it's hard to see how this could be good for a child. Personally, when I first heard about time-outs many years ago I felt pain and sorrow for the poor child - it instinctively felt wrong.

Now that I am a parent and have researched and understood parenting approaches and child psychology, I realise that it's also an ineffective way to teach your kids how to handle their big emotions so they can be calmer and more reasonable next time.

Let me illustrate this with a story:

Years ago I used to work as a nanny. I recall vividly one family who had a very stubborn 4-year-old son who regularly refused to do things, especially at dinner time. The more his parents tried to force him to eat his dinner with threats of punishment, the more stubborn, angry and upset he'd get.

One evening I was still there at dinner time, when a scene like that played out. On being threatened with punishment if he didn't eat up, the son got very upset and was shouting at his father. The Dad was getting angry himself and, at a certain point, he picked the boy up, carried him into the laundry, and locked the door. The boy screamed at him not to put him in there as he was doing it.

Once left alone the boy howled and cried and banged the door for about 5 minutes, and eventually ran out of energy and lay quietly in there sobbing. At that point his father opened the door and let him come out.

The father then tried again with dinner. When he didn't eat much more, he took the boy off to bath and bed.

So this is a standard time-out (albeit with a strong-willed child, not a meek, compliant one). This approach is recommended by one of our leading parenting academics and taught in a program funded and supported by many governments in Australia and overseas.

This shocks and worries me.

Maybe on gut instinct you're already feeling uncomfortable with the idea of time-outs, or maybe you feel it's plain wrong.

Or maybe you don't. Your child is very difficult or angry and gets rough with you and others, so you've tried time-outs.

So let me give you a more rational, logical reasoning about why time-outs are not effective and not good for your child.

What happens when your child misbehaves and gets put in the laundry?

1) They feel even more overwhelmed by their emotions because their nervous system is in fight-flight mode - that's why they'll yell and cry even louder. As a result they can't get any rational sense of what they did wrong - so it's not a good way for them to learn better behaviour at all! If your child was quite calm before you put them in the laundry, being sent off alone and locked away from everyone else will likely provoke a stress response in their body.

2) They feel even greater fear as they are separated from you and on their own, which is a young child's greatest fear (at a deep evolutionary level). This heightens their upset and causes more crying and screaming etc.

3) They feel rejected and unloved by their parents and they learn that, when they are emotional, they are unloveable and not wanted by the most important people in their life. When time-outs are used repeatedly, kids grow up feeling inside that they are bad and unloveable when they are upset or when they make a mistake. Most adults feel deep down that they are only loved when they succeed - and I believe this is why.

So what to do instead?

When they act out or do something naughty, we need to connect with our kids so they calm down (this means getting down at their eye level, talking kindly, cuddling if they'll let us etc.). Then once they are calm enough to listen, we can explain why they did the wrong thing and give them a chance to find a solution to put things right. This approach is sometimes called a "time-in".

The little boy who wouldn't eat his dinner was tired and not hungry. He just needed a cuddle to comfort him and, once he felt better, he might eat a bit more. If not, he's just not hungry!

What's behind resorting to a time-out is the idea in the back of our minds (that we learnt from our parents or from someone else) telling us we should be in control of our kids at all times.

Let's shift this to a much kinder and wiser idea: that our kids are not in control of their reactions and need our help to learn this skill. It's impossible to teach them this if we put them away from us - in the laundry or anywhere else!

I'd love to know what you think about this! Head to the Feed the Parent Calm Parent Facebook Group and post your thoughts!

And don't forget to download my free "Co-operative Kids" Cheat Sheet - it's full of simple strategies to keep your young kids calm and get them to listen and do what you ask!