Parenting Information

Time Out for Adults

"Get down from the table top right now! What are you doing? Floors are for standing on, tables are for eating. You need a time out, young lady. You go to your room and think about how you have been acting today."

So little Mary, 4, goes to her room with a sulky look on her face, but is quickly lost in a game with her dolls and toys. When her mother comes to tell her that she can come out, she is so engrossed in playing that she barely looks up, completely forgetting why she was sent to time out in the first place.

So, does time out work for children?

Yes, but only when it is age appropriate (one minute for each year of age) and then followed by a discussion at eye level of why the action was unacceptable. There has to be some conversation or connection to the actual event or misbehavior for it to be used as a teaching tool. It has been my experience that the consequences need to be tied in some tangible way to the mistake in order for the discipline to become long lasting. Perhaps a more effective teaching discipline would be to have Mary scrub the table and chairs.

When the room is in chaos, the kids are fighting, the phone is ringing, the potatoes are burning and the baby is crying all at the same time, the natural reaction is to explode. Even the act of seeing the bike in the driveway, again, is enough to make the blood boil and the steam come out of our ears.

However, I am convinced that parents need to step back at times and reflect on the fact that they are teachers who are training the next generation, instead of giving in to the impulse to scream, smack or threaten. Step back to see a new perspective.

It is better by far for you to give the child some warning and say " I am so angry right now that I am afraid I will say or do something that would make both of us sorry, so I am going to go in the bedroom and calm down for a few minutes. Meet me in the living room in 15 minutes and we will discuss it. But, in the meantime, I strongly suggest you not bother me and that you spend the time thinking about solutions to the problem."

When you feel tense, try saying calming things to yourself aloud: "Things will work out, it is not worth a stroke" "I want to have the misbehavior stop, but not damage my child's spirit" "That was a rotten thing for her to have done, but she is not a rotten child" "She is a good child who made a bad choice" "Is this worth ruining the evening over?" "This too (or two, in the case of toddlers) shall pass."

Relax somewhat by taking a deep breath to the count of four, hold for the count of four and release to the count of four, while you are thinking or saying aloud "Be calm". Now, do it again at least three times. You can feel your muscles unwind and your head clear somewhat. You will feel more in command of your voice and your actions.

Focus on solutions, not excuses

In 15 minutes (often you don't get the luxury of one minute for each year of age, but wouldn't it be nice?) you will have calmed down some and the child will be ready to offer solutions. Do not allow him to offer excuses, only solutions. Allowing him to own the problem and the consequences makes it a much more effective learning experience for both of you. Taking time out before a discussion gives both the parent and the child time to regain some perspective and come up with a much more meaningful solution than one handed out in a moment of anger.

An example from one mother

Sandy, Mother of 3 shared with a parenting class some excellent advice on dealing with children;

"Many times when the kids seemed to have 'an attitude' that I knew could rapidly lead to a confrontation, I made them go in the kitchen and have a peanut butter sandwich or some cheese and crackers and then meet me in 20 minutes to discuss things. Frequently, they were simply hungry or thirsty and needed to get some protein and carbohydrates in their body to regulate the blood sugar. It is amazing how many arguments were forestalled by a full belly. Finding out that active 11-13 year old boys needed 3,000 calories a day to operate and grow, explained why they were cranky a lot!"

Take an adult time out to regroup

You have my permission to take a time out whenever you need it. Children need firm and kind discipline and we can't offer that when we are angry or out of control ourselves. A few minutes of reflection, prayer or deep breathing can give us a new prospective on life and the crayon drawings on the living room wall.

You do the most important work in the world and twenty years from now, it will be a funny family story about Mary on the dining room table. In reflection you will both realize that tables can be washed or even replaced, but close relationships and respectful guidance are priceless.

Judy H. Wright 2005

Judy H. Wright is a parent educator and PBS consultant whose passion is working with Head Start staff and parents as well as child care providers. She wants to encourage a climate of mutual respect and nurturing to all. She salutes those who work with children, either in their home or as a profession. For more a complete listing of articles, books, cd's, workshops and speaking engagements, see Be sure and sign up for the free ezine, "The Artichoke, finding the heart of the story in the journey of life."



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