Should you ever lock your child in their room?

We've seen this topic come up in our forum - and it's one that divides opinion. So, we decided to get expert opinion from an Educational Psychologist about whether it can ever be beneficial to lock your child in a room...

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Here at MFM HQ, we’ve read a few stories over the years about parents prepared to lock their kids in their rooms.

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Years ago, the Daily Mail featured the story of a dad who was so exasperated that his son kept getting out of bed and going into mum and dad’s room, he put a lock on the child’s bedroom door from the outside and left it locked for the night.

More recently, American actress Kristen Bell admitted to locking 3-year-old daughter Delta in her bedroom while she went to sleep so she couldn’t escape – unlocking it 10 minutes later once the little girl had nodded off.

A story about locking your child’s door – from our forum

It’s a topic that’s come up on our MadeForMums forum, too. Mum hedgie had this pretty terrifying dilemma:

“Has anyone ever locked there little one’s bed room door? My 3-year-old has taken to getting up in the middle of night and wandering.

“I have spent more money than I have trying to child proof things more than they are but it’s getting ridiculous.

“At 3 though she is plenty able to undo most things. I have had her get up and clog the toilet full of toilet paper.

“The first night she managed to pry the drawers in the kitchen open and was playing with a knife (the drawers have child safety things on) and had gotten 2 pens out – which she had used to scribble all over the papers in my husband’s briefcase.

“He was due to hand them into court in the morning, and they were part of his client’s case. She has been on the computers and through all our desk drawers. I have also put a new lock on the front door as she unlocked the door and went outside…

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“I am at my wits’ end. I can’t sleep worrying over what she might get into. I have tried various methods of both positive and negative reinforcement, and she just doesn’t want to cooperate.

“My husband wants to just put a lock on her door and give it sometime for her to grow out of it.

“What do you think? I’m hesitant but I want her to be safe, and I want to sleep peacefully at night knowing she’s safe.”

What do our mums think?

Now, we agree that hedgie‘s situation seems pretty extreme – in general, it’s more likely you might be tempted to put a lock on your child’s door to stop them coming into your room at night rather than getting to knives in the kitchen 😔

So maybe that’s why some of our mums responding to her totally got her point. Mum alioli123 said:

“Sounds to me that you have to do whatever you need to do to keep your daughter safe and if that means locking her in her room, then perhaps that’s what you have to do.

“The only thing you need to think of is how she’d get out in an emergency (God forbid), or if she needed to loo in the middle of the night. Also, are you prepared to have her screaming in the middle of the night to get out?

“Have you tried a star chart with a reward after so many nights? These mostly work with my son.

“Knowing what she has done and what potential harm she could come to, I would give it a go, explaining to her your reasons for doing it and how she can have the lock taken off.

“She will understand hopefully. I’d rather have an upset safe child than an unsafe child.”

Another, though, siand, wasn’t so sure: “I really wouldn’t feel comfortable with a lock not just ‘cos of emergencies but it would be harder to hear her if she needed you.”

And clindley had this suggestion, instead of using a lock: “How about a chain on the door? That way it’s easy to open in an emergency and she can open the door a bit – though I fear you may have to deal with a slamming door for a while ’til she got bored.”

What does the law say?

In the UK, it’s not illegal to lock your child a room – but for reasons of safety (for example fire, and possibly not being able to hear your child if they’re hurt and the door’s completely shut) many people agree it’s not something they’d do lightly, if at all.

What does the expert say?

When we spoke to Educational Psychologist Naomi Burgess about this, she pointed out that when a child’s behaviour does not match with an adult’s expectations it can be for any number of reasons, and children will always test your boundaries; that’s part of growing up.

She also told up that there are nevertheless times that some children can, and do, exhibit unusual behaviours – and this could be a warning signal that something is awry.

Occasionally too, these behaviours can make you concerned that your child could be a danger to themselves or to others.

If that occurs, then it is the time to seek advice from a professional. Locking a child in their room is NOT an alternative to seeking advice. You could make matters worse.

Professionals that you can approach are your GP or a qualified registered professional like an Educational or Clinical Psychologist. These are the experts who can support you in finding and trying the best approaches for your particular situation.

“Psychology teaches us that there are tried, tested and safe protocols to help our children behave in ways that we would like,” adds Naomi. “There is a mass of good advice around about how to develop ourselves to support children in learning to behave in prosocial ways, and how to successfully engender a sense of self responsibility, and calmness.

“We often call that self-regulation. To begin with we need to let them know what we want from them and often we let them know what we don’t want. We need to teach them how to calm themselves, and we need to know how to calm ourselves first, so we can help them.”

“Many schools now have meditation and yoga classes to teach this sense of self-regulation, and most schools and many homes use star charts and praise as a better way of learning and sustaining acceptable behaviours and happy, safe children.”

Essentially, says Naomi, children need to be in a safe place and know that they are safe, they need to be loved, they need to be told when they do things well; this is what sets the scene for healthy and happy development.

“So please remember that, yes, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between a behaviour that is testing you out, and a behaviour that is ‘unusual’, and if you are ever in doubt, always ask a professional.”

Image: Getty

Please note that individual queries on this topic cannot be dealt with, but if you do have any doubts or worries about your child please contact your GP or a registered Child Psychologist for help and information.

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