Why Time Outs Don't Work & What To Do Instead

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Imagine this. You are about to leave for work and your partner says, “I cannot believe you left your towel on the floor again! I am so angry and frustrated with you, go sit in your room and think about it until I tell you that you can come out.” What would you be thinking, feeling and deciding about your partner and your relationship?

Let me guess, you would probably laugh. You might think your partner has lost their mind. Alternatively, you might decide your partner is a total jerk, and kidding themselves to think that you would actually go quarantine yourself and “think about it.” Yeah, right!

What about your relationship? Most of us would feel quite disconnected from our partner if they did this. We also might question why we chose a partner who is treating us so disrespectfully. We most definitely would not be starting our day off feeling loved and respected.

What do you think your child is actually thinking about when sitting in a chair in the corner or when sent to their room?

Here’s why we feel so strongly about this topic. When you send your child off to time out as a punishment, they are having the exact same thoughts you would have in this same situation!

They would sit and steam, think angry thoughts about you and themselves, and they might even plot doing it again to show you that you cannot control them. Kids don’t like to be disrespected just as much as adults don’t. The question is, why do we think it is any different for them?

Kids have the same set of emotions and awareness that adults have. They way we treat them should model the way we would like to be treated by them.

Lets look at time outs in sports. Time outs are not used to punish players for misbehavior. We have fouls for those. Time outs are a time to catch our breath. We may have lost focus on the game and need to get our minds back in. We may be having big emotions and need to settle down so we can play our best. Time outs are simply a pause. They are an opportunity to regroup and reconnect within ourselves and with our team. So how on earth did we switch to using them as a punishment that causes our children to feel us withdraw our connection to them.

Now we must bring time outs back to their roots.Time outs are a pause, an opportunity to self soothe and calm down when emotions get high. We can use the idea of time out to work with our kids to calm down, but not by doing it in an angry, threatening, and shameful or disrespectful way. The Positive Discipline approach maintains that we need to start working with kids and stop trying to do to them. The idea that we need to make kids feel worse to get them to do better is just preposterous. Kids (all humans) do better when they feel better.

Here’s another reason to stop using negative time outs. They don’t work. They don’t teach children to do something different next time the situation occurs, and they don’t model healthy ways of dealing with emotions. A large percentage of our coaching clients come to us after having tried time outs. They still feel frustrated with their children. Additionally, many report sadness because it has become such a struggle to even get the child to time out, and helpless because time outs are the one thing they were taught was supposed to work and now they don’t know what to do.

So how can we use time outs in a way that is respectful and gives our children an opportunity to learn and grow from the experience? We can use a Time In or a Positive Time Out. This approach is different because the child is given the opportunity to choose to go elsewhere or stay with you until they have calmed down.

When we send kids away, they experience this as a love withdrawal. What they really need and deserve is to stay connected to you so that you can model, coach and guide them in finding better ways to express emotion or behave. Positive time outs are opportunities to teach children self-control and self-discipline. It is more respectful than sending them away, to their room, or to sit in the corner because we keep children involved in the process by allowing them to find a space that is soothing and calming to them. This kind of time out helps to develop their innate ability to self soothe and take breaks when emotions get strong or when things turn negative. We as parents can facilitate this process by giving our child the space and time to experience and feel what they are feeling, calm down, and then process and problem solve together different ways to handle the current challenging situation or emotion.

Sounds simple? Your right. It's not! It takes a certain level of self-awareness and lots of practice to implement this type of positive time out. However, what we hear from parents that integrate it into their parenting, is that it works and that it feels better to both the parent and the child! And the more you practice it, the more it becomes part of your natural response. Give it a try and let us know what you think!