Parents frequently ask me about the effectiveness of using Time Out as a strategy for dealing with their children’s challenging behavior. I believe that it can play a role, but it’s important to look at what you want to achieve. Likely you are hoping to get your child to calm down and change their behavior. You may also want to teach them more effective and appropriate ways to express their emotions.
Let’s first reframe Time Out and instead call it “A Break”. This takes away the punitive connotation that Time Out usually conjures up. The truth is, we all need a break to cool down (self-regulate) and taking “A Break” can be a good start. In fact, at least half of the time, it is the caregiver that needs a break and I want you to have it! Having A Break will allow you both to calm and be available for problem solving.
Make sure your child has a safe, cozy space for their break. It can be in their room, in a cozy corner or in a tent with pillows and blankets. You are teaching them to take time to calm and regroup. You are teaching a skill, not punishing (punishment is not an effective teaching tool). Having a snack and something to drink supports physiologic calming- for both of you. Having quiet activities to do may also be helpful, such as drawing, reading or listening to a book on tape.
Now the bigger picture: Kids cannot learn to self-regulate in isolation. The real key to learning to self-regulate is through interaction. This is where Time In comes from! If you find you are using time out a lot, you need to increase your Time In. The goal for Time In is that you are having FUN together! Shared pleasurable experiences are the “glue” for your child to learn to calm in the context of your relationship, with your support. It also prevents the child from using tricky behavior to get your attention. Finally, it allows the opportunity for back and forth expression of feelings and problem solving. Schedule Time In with your child daily.
Originally published in Maui Family Magazine.