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When a Time Out Times Out

Photograph by Getty Images

Punishing the kids. I don’t even like writing that sentence. But unless you gave birth to a saint, literally, it is an unavoidable part of parenting.

If ever there was a set-up to screw up, it has to be in the area of disciplining our children. If you do nothing, they become anti-social tiny beasts that no one will want to be around. If you’re too strict, they grow up and can’t wait to rip off the chains that bind them. They rebel by hanging with the fast and loose crowd or drowning themselves in bottles of cheap wine or buckets of ice cream in the dark, lit only by the glow of their computer screens to escape the relentless pressure in their minds to do the right thing for fear of a lashing. (Or maybe that was just me.)

Nevertheless, as parents, we have to give our children boundaries for their wild impulses.

To soften the blow of punishment, child psychologists and guilty – I mean “evolved “– parents everywhere have come up with a new, more user-friendly term for discipline. That word, which, if you‘ve been to a play space or a birthday party for anyone under 10 in the last five years, you probably already know is “consequence.” As in, “Billy, if you throw that sand in Sarah’s face one more time there’s going to be a consequence, young man!” As opposed to what I grew up with, “You do that one more time and you will be severely punished.” My parents always threw in the word “severely,” to make sure the threat stuck.

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Preciousness aside, I like the word “consequence” in this context, because it doesn’t have shame marbleized into it, like fat through a steak the way “punish” does. Rather than shaming you in addition to whatever restriction is imposed, consequence sounds more like a choice, particularly if the culprit is given a warning. If you are told there is going to be a consequence and you keep up the bad behavior, then really you are making a choice, which is much more empowering. As long as it gets the job done, which is to make your children easier to live with, full steam ahead with this approach, why not simultaneously build your offspring’s self-esteem while punishing them?

Enough of my rants though. Let’s get on with this week’s mistake. Fear not: it is relevant. Of all the “consequence” options for parents, the most civilized has to be the “time out.” Isolating your child after misbehaving certainly beats boxing their ears (popular in English boarding schools in the late 1800s and known to cause deafness) or taking away screen time for a week (popular in 21st century American homes, known to cause deep resentment and, perish the thought, reading).

Unless, of course, in implementing the time out, you forget about your child and leave him locked in his room for a few hours.

This bad turn of events is exactly what happened to comedian Stamie Kiradakis with her son Niko. Stamie is raising her three adorable ragamuffins, Niko, his twin sister Dautry, both 7, and their older brother Jagger. She shares custody of them with her ex-girlfriend, Julie. Even though she only has them half the time, it can get a little overwhelming. She recently recalled this particular parenting oversight.

“Niko is always trying to mess with his twin sister. Not hard to do given how exacting Dautry is about her room and her stuff. With two brothers, she knows she’s outnumbered. She loves to keep her bed organized and made at all times. This ensures her stuffed animals have a nice place to live.”

I was in the kitchen, doing the chores of mommy hood — dishes, snacks for tomorrow’s school day and some work for me. Then I heard a scream coming from Dautry’s room that I hadn’t heard before.

On the fateful night, apparently Niko had been taunting his younger sister (he’s a minute older) from the time school let out, running in and out of her room. Stamie didn’t think much of it though, trying to let them figure it out on their own.

“I was in the kitchen, doing the chores of mommy hood — dishes, snacks for tomorrow’s school day and some work for me. Then I heard a scream coming from Dautry’s room that I hadn’t heard before. I quickly ran into her bedroom, and my little girl had a look of complete disgust. Niko ran past me naked, like a 1970’s streaker. Dautry was crying and can’t get the words out. ‘What happened?’ I asked?

“Niko came in here, took off all his clothes and jumped in my bed! Under the sheets! With his butt and everything!” I looked at her bed, a total shambles, dolls strewn all over the floor and the sheets ripped out of her precious safe haven. ‘Niko!’ I yell, ‘You know better than that! Get in here!’ He runs back in, somehow miraculously clothed. 'Would you ever do this at mommies house?' I asked him. ‘Mommy’ is Julie. I love to throw her into the situation, since she is the stricter of the two and kids seem to not go this far in her house when they want to annoy each other. ‘I didn’t do it Mama!’ he said, ‘Yes he did!’ Dautry yelled. ‘Well, I saw a naked boy run by me, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a ghost. Now go back to your room! You are on a time out buddy!’ ‘Fine, I'll stay in a time out forever, and Ill never come out!’ ‘Fine,’ I said.

Dautry, having calmed down, took the role of the caring older sister, explaining to him what happened. 'You ran naked in my room and put your butt on my bed, so now you have a time out.’ It was hard to keep a straight face, but he needed to know he couldn’t do this, so I just stared at him. He immediately stormed up the two stairs to his bed. ‘You stay there till I get you,’ I said, firmly. ‘Okay!’ he yelled over his shoulder.

Not realizing that a little quiet in the house was a function of one child being banished to his room is understandable.

The night went on, I did some work, played with Dautry and Jagger, and sat down to watch some TV. And then I thought to myself, ‘Where is my loverboy, Niko?’ That’s when I remembered: it had been well over an hour since I sent him to his room, probably closer to two. I jumped up and ran down the hall as quickly as possible and threw open the door to his room. There he was, my little boy sitting Indian-style in his bed with his head down, ‘You forgot me!’ he screamed, ‘You forgot me, Mama! How could you forget me in a time-out?’ I felt sick. Who cares about a little nudity? How could I forget my son in a time out? I climbed up on the bed and gave him the biggest hug. I think I even cried a little, too. And because of my mistake, in terms of punishment, it was a complete bust. To this day, when he brings it up, he only mentions how he was left alone for “like, 12 hours,” nothing about what he did to cause it.”

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Three children, two households to shuttle between, two jobs (Stamie also has a successful real-estate business). Not realizing that a little quiet in the house was a function of one child being banished to his room is understandable. I asked Stamie about the rebound from her mistake and if she does anything differently as a result.

“Well, from that day on, I only give my kids time outs where I can see them. And I hand the timer to them. They also know to come out when it’s over, because Mama is human and there’s always the slight possibility that I’ve forgotten my own punishment."

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