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PROFESSIONAL CORNER • Last updated December 31, 2016

Time out has been used, abused, and mostly misused in the last several years. Time outs have been held as the answer to all manner of discipline issues. Syndi takes a constructive look at the use of time outs, and its limitations, as well as it’s applicability to adults.

As we begin the new year I think you will find this information relevant and timely. The area of discipline and limit setting is an area that we continually need to target when working with families. As parents and professionals, we need to model these skills, and most of all practice them in our own lives.

Julie Loe

"I prefer using the term 'cooling-off'
because it lends itself to a more positive approach."
Syndi Ecker, MA., C.F.L.E.

What is all the talk about time out?

by Syndi Ecker from her Positive Parenting Series

So often as we read more about managing our lives in the areas of stress, time, anger, etc., the experts give us the advice to "take time out for yourself" And truly this is great advice to us. It lets us know how important we are and teaches us how to cope with the problems in our lives. It gives us time to process information and to solve problems rather than find blame.

Why then is timeout used as punishment when it comes to children?

When time-out is used positively it becomes part of the learning process towards self-control. Time-out used as punishment is based on a parents control which invites rebellion and revenge and decreases self-esteem. Rather, when time-out is based on dignity and reject it becomes a source of comfort which helps us to feel better. When we (adults or children) feel better, we do better. Why then do we insist on allowing our children to feel bad before we try to get them to change a behavior? How many of us are willing to change our behavior when we are feeling bad? In fact, can we even accept that our behavior is inappropriate when we are feeling challenged or humiliated?

The idea behind time-out is really to cool-off. I prefer using the term "cooling-off" because it lends itself to a more positive approach. Cooling off says exactly what it is we want to attain. That is, a time (whatever it takes) to let our emotions get settled, to rethink our position, to process information and to come up with solutions. Time-outs create a setting to engage us in interpersonal problem-solving skills. Remember, this is one of the goals in the Developing Capable People concept and a factor for resiliency; a key towards success!

It will take time and adjustments for both children and adults to change their ideas about using time-outs as a positive, encouraging experience. However, it is worth the time and effort to make the change. The results will be a happier, more cooperative child, who feels good about themselves and their autonomy. Imagine what that might do for us adults!! The change won't happen overnight but is well worth it.

There are some keys to effective use of timeouts (cooling-off):

  1. Share with your child why time out is being used. tell them you want them, to feel good about themselves and that this is away to calm down before our actions are out-of-control. Explain that all people, including yourself need time to adjust our attitudes so we can be helpful to ourselves and those around us.
  2. Let the child decide where and how long it will take them to feel better. You might say, "Your behavior tells me that you need time to feel better, when you feel better we can finish our discussion" You might even suggest to young children things they can do to make them feel better like quiet time, read a book, color, take a bath, listen to a tape, or lay down to rest.
  3. Model time-out for yourself. Learn to identify when you are unable to deal with an issue. For instance, your child was not where they had told you they would be when you went to pick them up. You have been worried about their safety and are angry that they "lied" about their whereabouts. When you find them rather than yell, scream and punish them for what they didn't do, you might say, "I've been very worried about you and I'm happy you are O.K. but I'm angry now and need some time to cool-off. We will discuss this tonight after dinner."
  4. Never leave a problem without a timely solution. This is a very important part of the process and the one many people do not finish with. I know many people who get as far as #3 in the process and then don't meet with the child (or adult) in a timely manner with a solution. The child should be part of this solution process. Withholding love and attention are not always ways to cool-off.

Suggested reading: Time-out: Uses and Abuses by Jane Nelson

Syndi Ecker is the parent education coordinator for Pediatric Services and is available for seminars or workshops. If you have any parenting questions you would like her to answer, send her an email at this web site.

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Last modified: December 31, 2016