“Time-in” for “Time-out”
August 6, 2009 · Posted in Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink

timeout The term “time-out” is so overused and the action so under executed that we decided to devote a number of posts over this summer to how, why and when to use “time-out” that will actually work.

“Time-out” is meant to communicate to your child that they are not allowed to do something and that there is a consequence for that action.  It is a time out from play, from interaction with others, and a physical separation from both. A” time-out” is meant to be a firm, calm and repetitive response to an action that your child engages in. It is instructive in that the negative behavior is stopped and the child is removed from the situation.  It is protective in that it separates parent and child from each other at a time when emotions and tempers flare.

Here is a blow by blow:

Your 4 year old knows he is not supposed to hit his baby sister. You have told him that, and you have told him that if he hits her he will have a “time-out”. You are in the living room, the baby is in the swing and the 4 year old is playing with toys on the floor. The baby is laughing and you are smiling at her. Your son comes over, to say hi and tickles his sister’s feet.  You say, “Look, she really likes that!”  He starts jumping and grabbing her feet.  You say, “Ok, buddy, take it easy..” and then he yanks her feet hard.  She starts to scream.

You say, “No hitting.” and take your son’s hand as you lead him to his bedroom. He pleads, “No, no, no time out, I wont do it again!”  You proceed by putting him in his room.  You make sure the door stays shut so that he cannot come out and run around. As you stand by the door, you breathe and try to stay calm. He kicks the door and cries out, “OK, I AM CALM!!!!” You say, “You are not calm yet, when you are calm you may come out.”

He settles down in a bit, you wait for an additional five minutes or so to make sure he is steady. He is still teary and sad, but says, “I am calm now.” You can tell that he is. You open the door and say, “Good job calming down.” And– this is the important part–let the “time-out” speak for itself.  No lectures, no reminders, no moralizing– just move on.

Physical separation says more than words, moving swiftly and repetitively shows your child you follow through on promises and staying calm shows him that he has not committed a horrible sin, just something he is not allowed to do.

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  1. Liz
    August 6th, 2009 | 3:48 pm

    Parents must be consistent with discipline and not punish out of anger.. those few seconds I give myself to take a deep breath and calm down before responding are so important. Thank you Jean and Lisa!!!

  2. Tatiana
    August 11th, 2009 | 6:00 pm

    I’m glad to hear that you suggest letting the “time-out” speak for itself. I’ve seen my friends absolutely butcher the “time-out” method – talking too much, empty threats, being inconsistent, and then claiming that this method does not work. IT DOES.
    thanks for spelling out the method!

  3. Molly
    August 22nd, 2009 | 9:55 am

    I have been very resistant to trying time out–This post puts it in a better light for me–Thanks.

  4. August 30th, 2009 | 7:56 pm

    Sorry but this time out business does not sit too well with me. As a Family Psychotherapist and Mom separating our children from us is felt by the child as punishment. Maybe that’s where I differ. I did not punish my two kids. I spoke to them a lot even when they were very little. If they had a tantrum or hit each other yes I separated them, yes I let him or her have the tantrum and when they calmed down eventually, we spoke again. Isolating them in a room, way too primative for me. If it works for you fine, but it just does not sit well with me.
    I think as parents we need to take time for ourselves to do some deep breathing, to control our anger and frustration, not stike out with our words or hands, and center ourselves. Bring in the other parent if you feel you are “loosing it,” for emotional support. We as parents are our children’s emotional containers and we need to work hard at it. Their room is a room.
    I witnessed a “time out” where a Dad turned his 3yr. old son’s chair around at a dining table @ a hotel we were dining in. The Dad was so angy over practically nothing. I was so uncomfortable for this little boy who was begging to be turned around again. It was humiliating and shaming. Sorry not great parenting. Most parents are clueless, and I love parents,about how to help their little ones learn some impulse control and containment. It’s a proces and our expectations need to be age appropriate as well.
    Ask Arden http://www.askarden.com My new blog Advising and Coaching Moms in building bridges with their Teen daughters is almost up. Can’t wait!

  5. Liz
    August 31st, 2009 | 10:40 am

    I think it’s so hard to judge what “poor parenting” is when we see a snap shot of what is going on in another family–but the example used is the exact thing the post talked about NOT doing.

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