Tweaking Time-Outs To Actually Help Your Children Learn a Lesson

Somehow along the way, our society decided that in order to make children do better we had to make them feel bad first.

“Go to the corner.”

“Put your nose on the wall.”

“Sit on the naughty stool.”

These admonishments are dripping with shame and lacking in unconditional love.

The messages we give our children when we send them away is that they are only worthy of our presence when they are “good” and that they are alone when they struggle, nobody is going to help them.

I guarantee children do not sit in time out and think about what they have done and what they will do differently next time.

Time outs disconnect us from our children.

How to introduce positive timeouts to your children and avoid the disconnection that comes with punishment. #parenting #positivediscipline

If you’re throwing up your hands right now saying… what do I do if I give up time outs? Don’t worry I’ve got you covered.

How To Have Positive Time Outs:

(This list is a kind of long and might look a bit overwhelming.  It’s not important that it gets done all in one sitting.  Let’s be honest kids have short attention spans. Just take each step one at a time.)

Step 1: Change your mindset.

It starts with you. Shift your thinking from punishing your children for having big emotional outbursts to helping them manage their feelings. You are their ally not their enemy.

Step 2: Talk about feelings.

When everyone is calm sit down with your child and talk to him/her about how you noticed sometimes they get really upset about things. Ask curiosity questions like

“What does your body feel like when you get angry?” (You may even go through some of the body parts often triggered by anger jaw, chest, stomach, hands…etc)

“What are some time when you have felt really angry?” (You can substitute upset, sad,…etc)

It might even be helpful to draw pictures of some feelings.

Step 3: Role play.

Switch roles with your child. You have the tantrum and have them send you for a time out… just they way it usually plays out in your home. Afterwards ask your child how they felt during the role play and tell them how you felt.

Role playing is an excellent tool for teaching empathy as well as communicating to your child that they are understood.

Step 4: Make a plan.

Create a cool off space with your child. Brainstorm some things that help your child feel better. (Books, stuffed animal, favorite blanket…etc) Let them decide where it is and what they would like to bring to the space.

This isn’t rewarding your child for bad behavior.  It’s helping them learn the ways they can take care of themselves when things feel overwhelming.

Give the space a cool name!

My daughter’s cool off space in a tunnel tent.

Step 5: Role play again

This time you be you and your child is your child.  Act out together the new positive time out strategy. (Refer to step 6).  This creates a connection in your child’s brain for when the real deal happens.

Step 6: When they are upset.

Ask: “Would it help you to go to your cool off space? “ (or what ever awesome name you’ve given it).

If the answer is no change the option. “Will it help most if I go with you or if you go by yourself?”

Step 7: Model cooling off for your kids.

Create your own cool off space and tell your kids when you are going to use it.

Step 8: Repeat steps 6 and 7 as needed

Our brains are changed through consistent repetition.

When we let our children know that we are there to help them we engage their frontal cortex (the reasoning part of our brains.) Therefore they are better able to focus on finding solutions for their problems and regulate their behavior when they don’t have to worry about whether or not they have fallen from our good graces.

Connect with your kids during their neediest time (when they have overwhelming feelings) is not being permissive. It is letting them know that you are always on their side and most importantly, you are trustworthy.

That is the lesson we want our kids to learn.

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  • Angel says:

    I’m really loving these ideas! I know I tend to put my toddler in time out but I realized once I calm down and sit and talk with her even if she doesn’t understand sometimes it helps to calm her down and get to the root of the problem. I really like the roleplay and cool off space ideas.

  • Meggan says:

    I’m totally with you on the cool out space. Sometimes kids just need space when they’re acting out either that or they may be tired, hungry etc. Talking it out with your kids is huge, they understand a lot more than they get credit for. Great tips, thank you!!

  • Lauren says:

    Great tips! I especially love the concept of role playing. Kids often have a hard time with perspective taking.

  • Valerie says:

    I love this!!!! These steps will help children on every level; not just understanding what they did wrong, but how to handle various types of situations and when to recognize that emotion or situation and what they can do about it on their own.

  • Susan says:

    I really love this idea! Sometimes I like to let my daughter “cry it out” and try to talk to her in a clam manner and voice rather then punish her and put her in time-out, I feel like it depends on the circumstances, but it does work even when she’s only 3 years old. I often have to remind myself that she doesn’t understand properly how to express herself and it’s my job to each her. 🙂

  • Mary Beth says:

    Even though my kids are grown, I felt draw to read your post. I was a big believer in timeout. I like the role-playing idea. I also think that parents need to remember to deliver consequences with empathy and make it clear that they are in timeout because of their choices. Good article!

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