Timeout: An opportunity to teach an important life skill

Time-out is a teaching tool for parents and caregivers to use when other discipline methods fail.

Time out should be an opportunity to teach a much-needed life skill: self-control. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Time out should be an opportunity to teach a much-needed life skill: self-control. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Time-out has been used for decades as a punishment for everything from poor manners to poor impulse control. Parents, teachers and almost anyone who has contact with children have probably had an occasion to put a child in a time-out. You may never have called it time-out but taking a child away from any situation where he might lose further control and do or say something that could hurt him or another is essentially a time-out. Time out was never intended to be a punishment. Time out should be an opportunity to teach a much-needed life skill: self-control.

One way to think about time-out is to take a look at how time-out is used in sporting events. Time-out is called for a myriad of reasons that may include a player who is out of control (a child throwing a temper tantrum), a game plan gone awry (how many rules are there?), a distraught coach (parent), or a player who has already or could be injured.

Now think of how a game or player is brought back into control. Sometimes the coach presents a new or improved plan (“what could you do instead”), the overwhelmed player takes a few minutes to sit down and take a break (“why don’t you go to your room for a few minutes”), the injured party is mended (or consoled) or the entire group takes a collective well-needed break (“why don’t we all discuss this later after we’ve cooled down”).

Time-outs for adults often includes simple things such as walking away from a situation, deep breathing, listening to music or taking a walk. Time out for kids is similar. Children can gain composure by walking, drawing, listening to music, or looking at a book.

Limit the use of time-out. Don’t get in the habit of giving children time-out for every small issue. It is best to try other strategies first and use time-out when those don’t work. Some proven techniques for improving misbehavior include:

  • Tell the child what you want or need, not what you don’t want; example: “Use gentle touch when you play with the kitten,” instead of “Don’t be so rough.”
  • Provide a safe play environment that includes lots of things that children are allowed “to do;” example: “You may play with your clay in the back yard or in the playroom.”
  • Use “I” messages; example: “I need you to pick up the toys now.”
  • Talk with the child and redirect an activity if needed; example: “That isn’t a toy - here is your toy.”
  • Give the child “time-in” where you provide some undivided attention. Many times children will act out to get your attention.
  • Use time out when all else fails.

The Center for Social Emotional Foundations of Early Learning has information and activities to assist parents and caregivers in learning ways to control to avoid the routine use of time-out. Kids are people too and when adults model using time-out to regain control they are teaching children ways that they can regain control and take responsibility for their own emotions. Time-out is just one way to teach this important life skill to the children in life.

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