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Time-Out Troubles?

Time-Out Troubles? 

How many times have you tried to put your child in time out and found yourself saying “This just doesn’t work for us!!  I don’t propose that I have a magic plan to make time out work for you and your child, but I do want to bring attention to the uniqueness of each little person and the idea that you can parent to your child’s temperament and personality for positive results! There are oodles of ideas on the “right” way to use time out. I believe there’s no one correct way to implement time out. No two children are the same. What works outstandingly well for one, may be a disaster for another!  

I once believed in the whole idea of sitting a child on a chair, step, etc., within my view for a set amount of time. I was also rock solid in my belief that time out should not occur in a bedroom where there are several toys to play with. Then I had my own child and this just didn’t work well for us! It prompted me to re-examine my approach. You know what? Stepping outside the box has proven far better results in not only my own home, but in therapy with the families I work with too!

Let’s think about this for a moment. What is your goal of giving your child a time out? Are you looking to provide a consequence for your child? Do you want your child to regain control of their body and emotions? Do you want them to stop a tantrum or melt down? I would encourage you to think about what your goals for time out are for your child, and what motivates your child.

Let me share what we have found to work well in our home.  First, through trial and error we found that sitting our daughter in a little chair, in our presence, only escalated our child’s behaviors. We figured out that she WANTED to be with us and removing her completely from our sight motivated her to regain control much more quickly. We also wanted her to learn how to regulate her own emotions. Knowing this, we implemented a two level approach.

Level 1: Calm Down Spot: This consists of a bean bag chair (tent works well too) in our toy room. This was used for behaviors like whining and generally acting like a grouch. She was first prompted to use her words to tell us what was wrong and if she was unable to do so she was prompted to go to her calm down spot to get control of her body and feelings. She can come out whenever she’s ready to use her words and is in control of her body and actions. We don’t care if this takes 30 seconds or 8 minutes. It is her chance to learn to regulate her emotions on her own, which was our goal for this level of time out.  Sometimes you just need a break to reset and this was our way of teaching this to her. I would also model this for her too. If I felt myself getting upset over something I would state “Whoa, mommy is starting to feel a little frustrated. My voice is getting louder and I’m feeling more impatient. I think I need to take a break for just a minute” and I would go hang out in the calm down spot for a minute. I was teaching her, but I was also practicing what I preached.  

Level 2: Bedroom Time Out: We use this approach when behaviors in the calm down spot continue to escalate. We give one warning that if she does not gain control of her body and words on her own, then she is choosing to go to time out. This is also an automatic for disrespectful behaviors. We skip the calm down spot and head right to time out. Unlike with the calm down spot, if you have been sent to time out you must wait for mom and dad to release you from time out. You don’t have the option to come out on your own. (We generally follow the rule of one minute per age of the child).

With both levels we follow up after with what the initial issue was. For example, if you went to time out for throwing things you are expected to pick them up. (Sometimes children will use time out as a way to escape somethingIf a tantrum restarts, back to time out you go, until you have done what was expected of you.)

Most of the time now, we don’t even need to use our Level 2 approach and our child has gotten so good at regulating her own emotions that many times, she will put herself in her cool down spot without us even prompting her!  (Proud mommy moment right there!) It has eliminated many of the power struggles that time out used to produce in our home. By looking at our daughter as a unique individual with her own little personality, along with defining what time out meant to us in our home, we were able to create a very successful plan.

I would strongly encourage you to get creative and step outside the box to find a solution in your own home! Our second child will be fast approaching toddler-hood and we may find we may be revamping our time out approach for her too, who knows!?  I have a feeling this one’s going to be our feisty one =)

Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CPlogo

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