Teaching Children to Use Time-Out Themselves

Tip—A child who can give herself a time-out is a child on the road to emotional maturity.

Last week we reviewed the basics of time-out as a self-calming technique. This week we’re looking at how best to teach our children to take advantage of this opportunity. First, it is important to not use time-out as a consequence or punishment for misbehavior. If a child experiences time-out as being “in trouble,” he will not use it to calm himself down. There are times, of course, when it is appropriate to separate children from each other or from the scene of misbehavior. Don’t call it time-out. Simply send the child to his or her room. This is a logical consequence, not a time-out. Save time-out for what it is really meant for—time and space to regain control of intense feelings.

Therapists Jennifer Brown and Pam Provonsha Hopkins, authors of What Angry Kids Need: Parenting Your Angry Child Without Going Mad, teach their young charges that time-out is “a gift you can give yourself when you have big feelings.” The goal is to raise children who can identify intense feelings like anger, disappointment, or frustration, use tools like time-out to calm themselves down, then put their energy into solving the problem that got them so upset in the first place. This is the essence of anger management.

Tool—Brown and Hopkins recommend teaching this skill to kids by first introducing it as something kind you can do for yourself, then modeling it for them. Children are astute observers. The fact that you use these skills is the best way for them to be willing to use them, too. Here is an example of a mom role-modeling time-out.

Mom: (Trying to open a jar of pickles) Man! I can’t believe how tight this lid is. I can’t get it open. This is really frustrating!

Child: Did you tap it with a knife handle?

Mom: I already tried that. I just feel like throwing it across the room! That would make a big mess though. I think I’ll put it down and give myself a time-out and try to take care of these frustrated feelings. (Walks over to the recliner and sits down.)

Child: (watches interestedly)

Mom: I’m going to take three deep breaths. (Breathes in and out heavily three times.) Now I’m going to count to five—One, two, three, four, five.

Child: What will you do next, Mom?

Mom: I’ll check my feelings. (Pauses.) Nope, still feeling frustrated. I’ll take three more deep breaths. Now, I’ll tell myself positive things. “Kristen, you can do it. You can get that jar open without losing your temper.” Okay, I’m ready to try again. If I can’t get it open this time, I’ll wait till Dad comes home and ask him to help.

Child: Good job, Mom.

Brown and Hopkins recommend using time-out yourself whenever you feel your irritation levels rising with your children. Role-model it for them, using other techniques like deep breathing or positive self-talk as well. Your children will notice and will pick up the skills.

When your child is having a hard time and beginning to lose control, you can suggest time-out, but let him be the one who decides to use it. Ask, “Do you need to give yourself a time-out?” or, “Would a time-out help you right now?” Keep time-out a technique that he uses to take care of his own feelings.

Spotted on parentingpress.com. Click here for link.

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