The Day I Broke Mr. Winter’s Rule

The Day I Broke Mr. Winter’s Rule

I was talking to a friend recently. She’s an experienced probation officer in a juvenile court working with delinquent teens on probation.

“Why don’t these kids listen to me when I tell them that if they fail to follow the probation rules there will be unpleasant consequences?” she asked.

“I take many these kids back to court for violation of probation hearings,” she said. “Sometimes their probation is extended and sometimes they get locked up in the detention center. Even though, I carefully go over the probation rules with them, the funny thing is that many of these teenagers tell me they didn’t believe it could happen to them.”

As I tried to answer my friend’s question, I remembered something that happened to me in the fourth grade. Mr. Winters was my fourth grade teacher and one of his rules was that you walked quietly down the wooden steps that led from the playground into our lower-level classroom.

I was well aware of this rule because I saw some of my classmates get punished for breaking this rule. I figured the rule applied to other children, but not to me. After all, I was a good student. I got good grades.  I helped Mr. Winters by taking messages down to the office and doing other chores for him.

So, one day I stomped down the wooden steps making a great racket. Mr. Winters was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps.

“You’ll be staying in class for the rest of the week doing extra homework instead of going out for recess,” Mr. Winters announced to me.

“But that’s not fair,” I protested. “I was just playing around.”

“You broke my rule,” he said simply, but firmly. I knew there was no point in arguing further.

I found out that day that Mr. Winters’ rules applied to everyone – even me. I also learned he didn’t play favorites. It didn’t matter that I helped him clean the blackboards earlier that day or that he liked me. If you broke one of Mr. Winters’ rules, there would be consequences.

I never forgot the lesson I learned that day. And I never had to test out one of Mr. Winters’ rules ever again.

Maybe that’s the problem for many adolescents that my friend works with in the juvenile court. Perhaps these kids never had a Mr. Winters in their life. Nor did they have parents who set rules with consistent consequences. I have no doubt that for many of the teens who wind up on probation live in homes in which the rules and the consequences shift from day to day, depending on their parents’ whims or moods.

I’ve come across many parents over the course of my career who do not want their kids to be mad at them. Or they can’t tolerate the temporary anger – sometimes even the momentary hatred – that results when children are given a consequence when they break a rule or violate an established limit. Some of these parents who end up being permissive just want to be popular with their kids and often feel guilty when they hold their children accountable.

Fortunately, Mr. Winters wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. He didn’t care that day whether I was emotionally hurt or that I might not like him for the rest of that day. He had the wisdom to know that teaching a lesson about rules and consequences was far more important than worrying about whether a student liked him.

Which is why my friend, the probation officer, has to be the person in a lot of teenager’s lives who finally says, “You broke the rules, now you have to pay the consequences.” If no one else is going to enforce rules and limits, she must.

It’s too bad more children don’t have a Mr. Winters in their life when they are young. If they had a Mr. Winters, then they would learn valuable lessons long before they became adolescents and before they were forced to learn one of life’s important lessons the hard way.

How to Use Time-out Successfully with Your Child

How to Use Time-out Successfully with Your Child 

If you want to use time-out with your child, what do you do if he cries, screams, or refuses to stay in the time-out chair?

Many parents encounter these kinds of problems when attempting to use time-out. A father I recently talked to said that when his son refuses to go quietly and sit in the designated time-out chair, they end up having a battle that causes an escalation of problems.

“What started out as a rather simple consequence for a misbehavior becomes a terrific power struggle,” this father of a four-year-old said. “I don’t think anything positive is accomplished.”

Another father said he would physically hold his child in time-out. “The only problem with this,” he said, “was that I had to threaten or add another punishment and I didn’t feel good about that.”

How should you handle time-out so it accomplishes what you want?

There are several guidelines I developed over the years as I worked with parents and their young children and these guidelines can be helpful to any parent wishing to use time-out.

First, time-out should be used for somewhat more serious misbehaviors. The reason for this is that if you try to use time-out for too many rule infractions, you run the risk of using time-out too often. Any punishment or negative consequences used too frequently will lose its effectiveness.

Second, young children should be trained to use time-out. How do children know how they should respond to time-out? They don’t unless they are told – and taught. I taught parents to practice time-out with their child before there was a problem or before it was to be used in a real situation. By explaining what time-out is and showing a child what was expected during time-out, the results were much more successful for parents. By having time-out rehearsals, children got to sit in the time-out chair for a short period of time and parents could hand out positive reinforcement for this rehearsal.

Third, designate a chair and a place for time-out that does not put the child at risk for creating new problems. For example, sending an angry child to their room, may lead to the child angrily destroying objects or trashing their room. A quiet place or a small area with few distractions and without anything they can destroy works better.

Fourth, if the child runs around, screams, or refuses to go to time-out, remain calm. And avoid a physical battle with your child. Let her run around or avoid the chair, but eventually (since you shouldn’t allow them to do anything fun or interesting in the meantime), they have to go to time-out and serve their time. I always found that when children figured out that they could not avoid time-out and that their parent was not going to chase them or engage in a power struggle, that ultimately they learned it was better to serve the time and get it over with.

Fifth, the time the child stays in time-out is not important. As with almost any negative consequence, the fact that there was a consequence is often much more important than the type or duration of the consequence. For a child who is resistant to time-out, it’s better –at least in the beginning of using time-out – to make it short and successful. That is, get your child in and out of time-out quickly so that you can praise or give attention to the cooperation she displayed.

Finally, after time-out is over, make sure there is a brief discussion of why the child was placed in time-out. For example, asking a child why he was in time-out can help you determine if the time-out helped to teach a lesson. If your child doesn’t know or has forgotten, then your job is to explain it to her.

You could say, for instance, “The reason you had to sit in the time-out chair was because you hit your sister. I don’t like it when you hurt your sister. I want you to remember to be kind to her.”