Time Out For The Naughty Step?

In April of 2011, Ireland was rapped over the knuckles (pardon the pun!) by the EU for not having legislation outlawing smacking. I think it’s probably fair to say that most parents in Ireland do not lash out at their children the way previous generations of parents did, but can find themselves at a loss for what else to do that’s effective. Many parents use the concept of ‘time out’ or ‘the naughty step’ to enforce discipline without violence. But is this effective? Or does the naughty step make the parent – but not the child – feel better?

Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Ireland has signed) states that children must be protected from all forms of violence. To me,this means that children should not be hit- and I don’t think that’s open to discussion or interpretation. If hitting an adult is assault, then hitting a child is, too – whether that child is your own or someone else’s. The concepts of ‘time out’ and taking to the ‘naughty step’ have gained popularity with parents in Ireland – and appear to be the tools of disciplinary tools of choice for TV’s Supernanny (who, it must be noted, has no children of her own).

I’ve got to be honest, I have no time for time out, and I wonder what the naughty step did to make it so. My feeling on these methods is that, at times when your child is feeling upset or frustrated or angry, the last thing they need is to be pushed away from you. When my children had ‘episodes’ I found it comforted both of us if I gave them ‘time in’ rather than ‘time out’ and hugged them or put them in their sling. If their misdemeanour was something that really annoyed me, and felt unable to be loving, I would give myself ‘time out’ and leave the room until I had regained control of myself.

These days, with my kids aged 9 and 11, we operate a system of ‘Time and Room’. Taken from the nautical call – whereby if two ships are on a collision course and one calls for ‘time and room’ the other vessel must give it to them. Even if the first ship is in the wrong. In terms of family life, what this means is that if there is a row brewing or happening, any party involved can call ‘Time and Room’ and just leave. The other party/ies then give the person who has left the time and room they need to calm down/recompose/chill out. It works exceedingly well – giving everyone the time they need to reassess and recalibrate. The important thing about this method, I feel, is that we view it as a form of self-care and family-care rather than a punishment. The person calling for time and room decides how long it lasts, so they hold their own power and remain in control.

We adults need to remember that children don’t mean to make their carers angry. The behaviour we dislike has come about because they want attention, or their concentration dipped, or they switched off, or they were frustrated or angry with a situation or another person – perhaps a sibling. What they need is kindness and loving guidance, not to be shamed and embarrassed and made to feel as though they are not good enough.

In my view, the naughty step tells children that they can only be around us when they are “being good”. It tells children that our love is conditional upon their behaviour.

I know it’s easy to get frazzled and it’s easy to get upset with a child who isn’t doing what you want them to do, but as the eminent child psychologist Haim Ginott reminds us, behaviour is motivated by emotion. So we need to look beyond the child’s behaviour and look at the feeling(s) inspiring it.

(Image Credit:  Photobucket


Another Rapist Goes Free

justice photo: Zoloft Lawsuit Scales-of-Justice-336x336-300x300_zpsd0201d02.jpg


I’m still reeling at Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan’s decision, four days ago, to suspend sentencing for a man who raped his sister-in-law.  At the time, she was 14. The rapist is ten years her senior.


The judge, in his ‘wisdom’ has decided that the suffering the victim went through matters less than the suffering the man’s family would endure if he went to prison. Two of the man’s sons have autism and a third child has other medical needs.


The court has decided that it would put too much strain on the family (and, the cynical part of my brain suspects, the public purse) , if this man went to jail.  So he doesn’t have to. What next? Will a judge next week or the week after decide that a successful businessman doesn’t have to go to jail because the State might miss his tax contributions?


Or might a man be kept free because to imprison him might deny his new wife the right to start a family?


I’m sitting here wondering what the criteria actually is for a judge in an Irish court to decide that a convicted criminal actually has to serve his sentence.  These kinds of decisions hammer home an idea that women and children in Ireland are worth less than men. Or even just worthless, full stop.


The potential difficulties that this rapist’s family might encounter is deemed to be worse than the real and actual harm that has been done – and continues to be done – to the victim. The trauma that she has had to deal with on her own, is not deemed to be worth as much as the potential suffering that the rapist’s wife and children might endure.


I can’t help but wonder why the judge is so overly concerned with this man’s family when the man himself didn’t give much thought to them when he was busy raping his wife’s underage sister.


As for Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan’s assertion that the rapist has ‘self-rehabilitated’? I have two words – evidence, please? Research leads us to believe that men who get away with raping – as this man effectively has – don’t stop.


What about the victim, though? Surely, those of us who go to court put ourselves through that awful experience because we are seeking justice? What justice has she received?


Newspaper coverage of the case is here.

Health, Parenting

Mixed Messages? (Part One)

Tomorrow, the Irish state exams – the Junior Certificate (JC) and Leaving Certificate (LC) – will begin.  For much of the month of June, those aged 14-15 and 17-18 will be chewing their pencils and worrying about how these tests will affect the rest of their lives.

Pencil in Dictionary


Today, the media was all afire with older people (by that, I mean people in their 30s and older – we’re ancient as far as those teenagers are concerned) being very serious as they went on about how these exams aren’t the be all and end all.

“The results of your Leaving Cert won’t define you,” one Elder Lemon commented.


Psychologists, therapists, teachers and those in many different professions felt it necessary to state categorically that teenagers are more than the sum of their points. Several parents weighed in as well – some more maudlin than others.


Now, before you think I disagree with these people, let me quickly disabuse you of that notion. I agree. The Junior and Leaving Certificates don’t define who a person is. The results of the Leaving Certificate do, however, determine if a person can continue to college or university. The points achieved in the LC also determine whether or not one gets to study one’s first choice. These exams do have an immediate impact on the lives of the young people sitting them and there’s no getting away from that, though. Even if it’s only the few weeks of mortification after the results come out and you have to admit that you failed everything.


My difficulty – my irritation – with this wave of ‘the exams don’t really matter’, is that, for many of these teens, they have spent the past few years hearing the exact opposite. They have been told that unless they ace their exams they will amount to nothing. Oh! Those may not be the exact words, but that is the message. Believe me, these kids don’t invent the pressure out of thin air!


Of course, I’m not saying that the people who are giving advice today are speaking out of both sides of their mouths, just that…..well, it’s a bit late to be giving that message now. Can we try and be consistent and give the same message to our young people throughout their academic career. Perhaps a modicum of moderation. How about we decide that all we – and by “we” I mean teachers, parents and media professionals  – tell our teens is:


“You’re fabulous. These exams are unfair and out-dated, but at the moment, they’re all we have. Sorry about that. Please do yourself justice by trying your best; but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get the results you wanted/needed for the course you wanted/needed. You’re still fabulous.”




Health, Media, Parenting, Uncategorized

Through The Lens of Motherhood

In Ireland, we’re still talking about the Prime Time Special Investigative Report into child care and that’s a good thing. Childcare is an issue that needs examining. The sad thing is that it’s taken a crisis like this for the Irish public to take a look at where and how our children are treated when we’re away from them.


Dialogue is always good: People expressing their opinions and sharing their experiences, making suggestions and offering support is helpful. I am delighted that the conversation here has not resulted in women who work outside the home being pitted against women who don’t.


It’s disheartening, though, to note that this debate is happening now – when the damage has already been done to a number of children. As I have mentioned before, Ireland is a nation of reactionaries. We, as a nation, don’t sit down and plan things. We lurch from crisis to crisis and try to cobble remedies together instead of methodically looking at solutions to possible problems in the planning stages. Look, for example, at the current baby boom. Where are the babies born now  going to go to school in 4 or 5 years’ time?


One of the reactions to abuse in childcare is people asking for cameras to be installed to keep staff under surveillance. I have a few problems with this. Cameras don’t always work. They can be switched on and off with ease. Then there are issues around child protection – all parents would have to consent to all other parents having access to images of all the children. I might not want your husband watching my daughters. I might not want your wife commenting on our child’s speech to your wife.


My biggest concern with cameras is the message they sent to care-givers. If I put you under surveillance it means I don’t trust you. It means that I will allow you to do something but I won’t really trust you to do it or to do it properly. People who are constantly being watched are not necessarily going to do their jobs better. Certainly, care-givers aren’t going to express a more loving attitude because they know they are being filmed.


When I needed childcare, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful live-in nanny. Part of the reason that things worked so well for us was that Nishanthi knew she was a respected member of our household. When she’d only been with us a few days, she came to me to hand up her passport. Initially,  I thought she needed me to take it for safe keeping, but it transpired that Nishanthi assumed that (like her previous employers) I’d want to hang on to it so she couldn’t run away.   I told her I’d happily put it in the safe in my room for her, but that I certainly wasn’t demanding she surrender it.

“Nishanthi,” I told her. “I trust you with my baby. If I thought you were going to run away, then I have no business leaving my child with you.”


I think that basic premise applies no matter who you leave your children with. If you have an inkling that all is not as it should be, then act on that instinct. In Ireland, we defer too much to perceived authority figures. “Why” is largely academic at this moment. Whether it’s part of our colonial hangover or not is irrelevant.  What matters is that we fix it and think for ourselves.  I’m a great proponent of personal responsibility and recognise that, as a parent, my child’s welfare ultimately rests with me.


Baby zoos are impractical and not the best solution at all. Industrial solutions are fine for bags of cement or packets of biscuits, but for our babies? Definitely not the way to go. People say they like the idea of their children socialising with their peers. But how many other children do they think they need to ‘socialise’ with? If the were at home with Mammy, they’d only have one or two other kids to play with. So 30 or more children is not ideal. At a time when we are beginning to realise that large class sizes in schools are not conducive to either the social or academic excellence, why can’t we make the same realisation with regard to our babies.


There are many different solutions to the childcare issue. Each family needs to make the choice that is best for them, based on solid information and their own preferences. It is right that we are reeling. But when we’ve finished reeling, we need to do something real.