How to use time-outs for kids

July 18, 2022

In our family we are all about time-outs. For kids. For parents. We love time-outs. You might be thinking “Wait! What?! I’m not a bad parent for issuing a time-out?!” and yes they’re ok… if you do them right.

Big feelings happen. We all need to take a moment. Big little kids and big adults all need to take time-outs to collect ourselves. But this need for time and space to collect ourselves doesn’t need to be a punishment. We need to celebrate the time-out!

So don’t send your kids for a time-out as a consequence of misbehavior (read this post on how to discipline your child). If they’re angry or sad, you don’t want to send them to their room to feel alone with their big feelings. Instead *teach* your child that when a big feeling rolls in, if they’re feeling overwhelmed or out of control, to check in with themselves and see if they need to take a time-out. Encourage them to self-select a time-out as a calm-down strategy when they need it most. So you can skip the “GO TO YOUR ROOM”, and instead empower your child’s take control of when, where, and how they do a time out. 

Because at the end of the day, a time out or being sent to their room to be alone with their feelings doesn’t TEACH them anything. They are left to feel alone and confused about the feelings they are experiencing. If they got mad and hit, sending them to their room won’t teach them what  to do it INSTEAD of hitting, which means the behavior won’t change moving forward. There are a bunch of other ways to correct or “discipline” your child. We have an entire article on it here.

You can even encourage your kids to pick this strategy independently by putting together a calm down bin that they can use in those moments when they need a time out. This will give them some special toys and activities that they find calming to work through as they take a moment to themselves to regroup. When they’re feeling ready and more settled, they can come back, again on their own choosing, to join whatever has been going on.

And don’t be afraid to take a parent time-out. We need those too. Parenting is HARD. There are moments when we feel so over-stimulated, and so over it, that we need to step away and collect ourselves. And you know what? You don’t need to feel guilty about taking time to gather yourself. Kids learn by watching us. They see what we are doing and instinctively will copy us. So every time you say “Wow I am feeling really frustrated right now. I need to step into the other room to take a time-out until I feel more grounded,” they watch you using the strategy of taking a time-out and will be learning how to do this for themselves. You are your child’s first teacher, and they will learn how to process their feelings and navigate tough moments by watching you. 

So let’s reframe what a time out IS, and celebrate when our kids end up in (self-selected) time out multiple times a day.

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