- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is it appropriate for a preschool teacher to punish a somewhat shy 4-year-old child for not singing during the music lesson? My daughter was not being disruptive, just not singing with the group. Her teacher punished her by not allowing her to participate in a free-time activity.

Also, should I punish her for not saying goodbye when the teacher speaks to her at the end of the day? She will look at the teacher but won’t speak.

A: Without knowing the background to the situation, I would have to say for the teacher to punish your daughter for not singing was a bit over the top. To equate not singing with, say, refusing to pick up toys is quite a stretch.

Either the teacher needs a vacation or she is more than a little exasperated with your daughter. If the latter is the case, perhaps the two of them have entered into a power struggle within which your daughter’s strategy is to passively oppose the teacher’s authority.

In any case, the teacher did not properly handle your daughter’s silence during the group singalong and may be generally mismanaging her. I would recommend that you request a conference with the teacher and perhaps her director as well. It may be that moving your daughter to another class or even finding another program would be in everyone’s best interest.

The fact that your daughter doesn’t look the teacher in the eye when the teacher speaks to her is further evidence of a power struggle — a “mismatch” at the very least.

On the other hand, if this is typical of your daughter, start holding daily practice sessions at home in which you pretend to be various adults. Non-threatening “rehearsals” of that sort are a good means of helping children develop social skills.

Q: In looking over the past 25 years of your work, I’ve discovered that in one place you said a 3-year-old should spend no more than three minutes in timeout, but in another you recommended sending the same-age child to her room for an entire day. I’m a bit confused. Can you clarify?

A: Once upon a time, I was a believer in timeout. If the truth were known, I probably had a lot to do with its popularity. In retrospect, my belief was not based on objective evidence but was the result of my having gotten caught up in a trend. (Ouch.)

I have since come to the conclusion that timeout is the most ineffectual punishment ever devised. At best, its usefulness is quite limited. It works fairly well with some toddlers (but not at all with others) and very well with children who are already well-behaved.

I finally had to admit that I had never been a witness to or heard of even one instance in which timeout had cured a major behavior problem. That was more than 10 years ago, and the record is still clean.

Timeout was part of a general backlash against the punitive discipline associated with traditional parenting. Supposedly, punishment lowered self-esteem — a claim that rested on no objective evidence. Furthermore, the latest research finds a strong correlation between high self-esteem and anti-social behavior. In other words, high self-esteem needs lowering.

For a consequence to act as a deterrent against future misdeeds, the consequence must serve to form a long-term memory. Timeout is eminently forgettable. A 3-year-old is less likely to forget a day spent in his or her room than three minutes in a chair, so I prefer the former.

I have been advocating extended confinement for quite some time and have yet to hear of a child who emerged a basket case. In fact, every parent has testified that the child who comes out of the room is a whole lot nicer to be around than the child who went in.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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