“If we were at home, she’d be sitting in the naughty corner for doing that!” she told me.
I could tell she was embarrassed by her three year old’s behaviour, but really, it was pretty normal pushing of the boundaries threenager stuff.
“Do you have somewhere I can put her in time out?” She asked.
Now it was my turn to feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.
“I .. uh… no, sorry, we don’t use time out.”
Suddenly all eyes were on me as the play group mums couldn’t believe what they had just heard.
No time out?
What do you do when they are being naughty?
Do you just let them get away with it?
Time out was not for us back then when our twins were little, and we don’t use time out now that our kids are older either, but we don’t let our kids run amok either.
Reasons Why We Don’t Use Time Out
We don’t use time outs because chairs aren’t ‘naughty’ and corners aren’t ‘naughty’ and children aren’t ‘naughty’.
Children are simply small humans who are trying to work out the world and manage their emotions. They make mistakes (just like adults do) but that doesn’t make them ‘naughty’.
We don’t use time outs because behaviour is communication.
When a child misbehaves they are trying to tell you something, if we ignore the reason behind the behaviour it won’t help them learn to do better, or change the behaviour in the future.
We don’t use time outs because little children can’t ‘think about what they’ve done’ without help.
Even older children struggle with working out their emotions, thinking about the impact of a situation, and figuring out how they can do better. We need to talk to our kids, to explain, to teach, to show them, not ignore them and magically hope they figure it out on their own.
We don’t use time outs because it sets adults and children up for a power struggle.
It makes our kids feel anger and frustration towards us, it makes them more defiant and it breaks the connection between us. Without that connection our kids are less likely to accept limits, to communicate respectfully and to
We don’t use time outs because when did being forced to do something you don’t want to do ever help someone calm down quickly?
Children need help to understand and manage their emotions, and children don’t learn when they are in meltdown mode.
We don’t use time outs because isolating, ignoring, and withdrawing our love from children can make them feel like they are bad people, or that we only love them when they are being ‘good’.
Loving our children doesn’t ‘reward’ misbehaviour. Offering comfort and attention doesn’t let our kids ‘get away with it’, not following through with limits does that. You can set clear limits while still loving your child.
What do you do instead of time out?
The concept behind time outs – ‘to give kids a break from a situation they find difficult’ – isn’t a bad thing, but it seems to have evolved into isolating, shaming and ignoring. None of those things help our kids learn to do better.
So if we don’t use time outs what do we do when our kids are struggling?
Firstly, we check our expectations.
Can my child really be expected to manage the things I am asking of her right now? An 18 month old can’t share, my 9 year old can’t make a good choice when he is tired and overwhelmed, and most kids are not doing things with the sole intent to make you angry or drive you insane. When you shift your thinking from the perspective of ‘they are doing this on purpose and they should know better’, to ‘perhaps they can’t manage this right now’, it’s much easier to respond, rather than react.
When things do go pear shaped, we step in and help our kids manage the situation they are struggling with.
We give them words for their big emotions, we acknowledge the situation, we state the limit, and we teach them how they can manage things.
Eg – “Looks like you are mad with your brother because he won’t play the game you way you want him to. It’s not ok to hurt him, can I help you talk to him and sort it out?”
If we need to remove our child from an escalating situation, we do so, but not as punishment, or in isolation.
We explain why they need to move away, give them somewhere else to go and something else to do that will help them calm down. Sometimes that will mean physically removing a small child from a situation and then holding them or staying near by while they melt down. Sometimes that will mean asking an older child to remove themselves to another room because the situation has gotten out of control and offering them ideas of how they can help themselves calm down. Sometimes it is just suggesting that it would be a good idea to take a break from a frustrating situation and go do something else.
We try to role model what a positive time out looks like.
Time out is not a terrible concept. It’s much better to use a time out occasionally than loose your cool and yell or lash out, but in those situations the person most in need of a time out is usually us adults.
When we are frustrated, or overwhelmed, and we know we are close to losing it we take a few moments to calm down. Not only does that give us some time to think things through and make better choices before tackling difficult issues, it shows our kids how to use time out as a positive way to calm down before moving on.
Now that our kids are older we also ask them to give us some time out. I can’t always abandon dinner preparations because I am frustrated, but I can ask my kids to give me some space because I am not coping so well right now. I hope that is teaching our kids that it is ok to say when you are not coping, and it’s ok to ask for some time to get things together.
How do you manage big emotions, mistakes, and misbehaviour in your family?
If you are struggling or would like to move away from punishment then these gentle parenting posts might help…