Recently, while stuck at home like everyone else and doing the many dishes there are when everyone is home, I was listening to some comedians for the mental relief that comes with being able to laugh a little. Two of them mentioned how they grew up in a time of physical punishment for behavioral infractions, rather than the more recent trend of putting the child who is misbehaving in time out. These comedians, though talking about how painful it was to get a beating, seemed to be on the side of hitting as a positive way to instruct children in what they are doing wrong.
I thought that, while their acts were funny, they were missing something. In the years that we have moved away from hitting as a method of teaching the young, we have also, as a culture, begun to understand something vital: children are people. When we don’t have the choice of violence as an outlet as we try to show what they are doing wrong, we are forced to do something novel, and talk to children. Yes, there is a lower limit of an age at which we gently explain that the stove or the street may be dangerous, where we have to use raising our voices to convey the severity of the danger, or yes, pulling them away for their own protection. These are also effective, as is the lesson of actual pain from the fire if the child does not listen. But speaking to them, or enforcing not a punishment as much as a consequence of their actions, does more to teach in the long run. Why? Because if they understand why their action was wrong and how it affects them, they are more likely to absorb the lesson and not do it again, rather than just do it while there are no adults to see and punish.
I know this is true, because I have seen the difference between just keeping a child in for recess, and talking to them about how if they are 15 minutes late (because they chose to extend their previous recess), and miss 15 minutes of learning, the natural consequence is that they have to take those 15 minutes from a different time to complete the work they missed. I also know that speaking to a child about how their behavior affects their learning, as well as the rest of the class’, shows them that an adult cares about them, not just ‘the rules’. I also know that there are times when a child who can’t help themselves needs to go out for a drink or a short breath of air, not as a punishment but to give them a much needed time-out from sitting in the classroom. This helps them learn better, both in the short term and in the long run, when they start to understand what they need and ask for it when they need it; hopefully, they can get their needs met rather than resort to misbehavior.
So, what does this have to do with our situation? As you may have realized for yourself, and as it took me time to learn, sometimes older children, young adults, or even grown-ups need a time out also. When I feel I am going to lose my cool, the best thing I can do is take some deep breaths and walk away (if possible), until I can talk about whatever is upsetting me from a calmer place.
Right now, we are all in a time out, for our health and the health of our loved ones. We are staying home as much as possible except for what is necessary and following the rules, put in place for our health and safety. It saddened me that the rules had to be made even stricter when they weren’t being followed; one beautiful thing that really lifted my spirits was hearing the echoing melodies of the community, each one on their own mirpeset (balcony), welcoming Shabbat (the Sabbath) together.
Sometimes when I am in my own self-imposed time out, it is hard, because then I have to be alone with my thoughts and unhappy feelings. But that is okay too—we grow by learning more about ourselves, and about the world. Some of us now have the difficulty of being alone, while others, like in my house, struggle because there isn’t really any place to be alone, and both are important for our mental health; time for ourselves, and time with others. I am trying to be up when others are not, or find a place for quiet time, and I have also been calling those who may be alone, or the only adult with kids depending on them, because a phone call—hearing a real voice—is different than posting on and reading social media. These calls lifted my spirits as much as my friends who I miss seeing face to face. We all need that direct connection.
One thing that struck me (pun intended but true) as I listened to the comedians was seeing the people gathered in the room, and thinking about how much we would all give to be able to just sit in a gathering of friends and strangers and enjoy ourselves. The schools I teach in asked us to please stay in close contact with the students, because it is important to have consistency in their lives-and ours- and it is especially important to make sure that children know that there is something stable in their lives. I found that I, too (after the crazy pressure of the first week where it felt like everything was on fire while we figured out a whole new way of teaching), miss the routine, going to work and seeing my colleagues and students.
I want to add here that having a time out also helps us think about the words we say or don’t say, the ones we regret having said or not having said before it is too late. When the news talked about how teachers aren’t actually working now but are on vacation, it pressed one of my deepest buttons, and I wrote a well-meaning explanation of exactly how much we do. I wrote it because it is not just now, when it is true that we are teaching but it also falls on parents, who are overwhelmed by having to juggle helping their children learn with taking care of them and doing their own jobs as well, but often, with our low pay and with things we hear about how it does not take much to be a teacher- it feels like the ones who say this are looking at our hours in the classroom, and not seeing what goes into preparation and feedback, parent contact and learning new methods, all the “invisible hours” that teachers spend to do our job in the best way for our students. But I didn’t post it, because there were more important things to think about, so the fact that we were all working hard and hearing that we weren’t was a blip on the radar. Recently, though, I understand there has been a turnaround- that now that parents see what we do, there is a stronger understanding that teachers are not just babysitters.
One reason I didn’t post that was because I was thinking about all those on the front lines, who are truly putting their lives at risk every day, from doctors to nurses, to teens doing hospital service to cleaning staff to pharmacists, and in the food stores and the food industry. Being aware of what others are doing for us is a trait I work on, because it makes a positive difference in how I view life.
We are now on Pesach (Passover) vacation, and unlike my hopes written before the holiday, we have not yet been freed. We don’t know what this will look like on the other side, who we will have lost, how many will be suffering with their health and how many with finances. We will have to figure out more new ways of living.
I hope this time out will be over soon, and I pray for all the sick and their families.