Wardens, coaches and parents all use time-outs. In prisons, inmates are placed in solitary confinement to reprimand and punish. Athletic teams use time-out to recover, regroup or strategize. For parents, the athletic style time-out can be a useful strategy for stopping problem behaviors in the moment and fostering self-control in the long term. Using the penal style time-out with children is sometimes effective in the instant, but over the long term it tends to backfire. If we tell someone, adult or child, to sit in the corner for five minutes and think about what he did wrong, he is far more likely to be nurturing his anger and resentment than reflecting on his mistakes and considering how to atone.
Instead of punishment, positive time-out gives the child an opportunity to take a break from out-of-control emotions and behaviors and to call on inner resources and external support systems to facilitate recovery. It leaves him feeling more capable, cooperative, and valued, rather than angrier, more resentful, and more discouraged about himself.
Using Positive Time-Out
- For anyone: Parents and children can both use time-outs. They are for anyone who needs to calm down, regroup, or take a break from what is going on.
- Parent Time-Out: Sometimes the parent is the one who needs the time-out. There are moments when things have just been too much, times of crisis, or days when we get fed-up with children being children. You can take a time-out. Tell your child, “I am feeling very upset right now. I need to take some time to myself to calm down. Then we can talk about what happened.” And then retreat to the bathroom, your bedroom, the yard, wherever. Pay attention to how you are modeling the skills you want your child to develop.
- One of many parenting tools: Time-outs are not for every problem. You should have other parenting tools, too, such as redirecting, limit setting, using consequences, doing problem-solving, using positive listening skills, using humor, distracting, or expressing love and affection.
- Nonpunitive: A child goes to time-out when he is already upset about something. The time-out is not intended to further rub raw those wounds. Rather it is to give a place and space for recovery. It is supportive, rather than punitive.
- Optimism: Be confident and supportive. Express confidence in your child’s ability to handle the situation and himself.
My next blog post will contain tips for using time-outs with different age children.