Wait a minute! What’s the title of this article? Positive time-out? There’s no such thing!
Well, folks – I hope that by the time you finish reading this article, you come away with a different perspective about what time-out has been traditionally, and how it can be positive for child and parent (or teacher), a learning experience, and a way to diffuse a tense situation.
Traditionally, a child has been “put into” time-out because of “bad” behavior. He or she is sent to the corner or to their room for a certain length of time. When they are invited to return to the group, the adult expectation is that the issue is resolved – until it happens again a day or a week later. And the cycle begins again.
If I do something “bad”, I will probably be yelled at and punished, i.e. told to go to “time-out”. Then, after a long time, I’ll be invited to come back to the family or classroom. In the meantime, I am feeling angry and resentful toward the person who made me go to “time-out”. And I may start planning what I’ll do next. Have I learned how to break away from a tense situation? No. Have I had a positive experience? No. Have I learned anything – positive? No. What I have learned is that adults are in control and have power. How I feel is not important.
I cannot and will not tolerate the child’s “bad” behavior. I have to control it by using “time-out”. Have I had a positive experience? No. Have I tried to diffuse a tense situation? No. Have I learned anything – positive? No. I am bigger and older, and it is the child’s duty to do (or not do) what they have been told.
How did adults get the idea that making a child feel badly about their behavior is going to make their behavior change for the better? This is a recipe for a punitive time-out.
How can we turn a potentially explosive situation into something that is positive for everyone? How can we be kind and respectful, learn something, and feel like we can manage stressful moments?
“Positive time-out” may provide some solutions. The goal is not to punish the child or assert the power of the adult, but to provide an opportunity for children to learn to recognize and soothe their big feelings. Once the child and the parent have had a chance to cool down, both will be ready to talk about what went wrong and problem-solve for the future.
For additional resources on Positive Time-Out, as well as other positive parenting information, please check out:
These books have a wealth of information with strategies to help parents (and teachers) fill their toolboxes with many useful ways to help children develop into responsible, respectful and resourceful human beings.
This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Washington Parent magazine.
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