Time out has been a fickle friend. From its initial burst onto the scene it was a positive alternative to corporeal punishment. Hooray for time outs, right?
With time and popularity of a practice comes greater research and scrutiny and we’ve now learned that time outs may not be working and, in fact, may be counter-productive, engendering greater feelings of social isolation and rejection in children who most need to build social connections and competency. Boo to time outs, right?
When we know better we do better. What’s interesting to me, however, is when I come across parents and child care centers who are aware of the more current knowledge on time out and so they sort of, kind of change.
I’ve observed in classrooms where teachers proudly tell me they don’t use time outs. Then they explain to me what they do instead — essentially time outs by another name. The power chair. Cubby time. Taking a break. I’m not saying all these things are wrong. Many are being used in exactly the right way. And others could maybe use some serious tweaking. What I find interesting is that our focus has been on the name, and not so much on the practice.
Tools are about function. Names are merely for convenience in referencing. You can call a Phillip’s screwdriver an X-head if you like, as long as you know how to use it.
Time out is the same way. We can use it inappropriately, shunning and shaming children, hoping to magically change their behavior simply by changing their location. It doesn’t work. So we use a different name. But if the technique is the same, it doesn’t really matter. It isn’t the name that prevents it from working, it’s the technique.
Similarly, if you’d like to use time out as a tool, in an effective way and with proper technique, by all means you can call it time out and not get the stink-eye from me or anyone else.
As I’ve mentioned before, time outs are for coaching, as the term implies. You would never expect to see the coach of a professional basketball team call a time out when his team is performing poorly, only to shout “NO”, give stern looks, and then walk away from them as they waste away the remainder of the time out clock sitting in silence.
Watch seasoned coaches. They call time outs to get their players out of a situation that has gotten out of control. They give them a chance to calm down and catch their breath. They look them right in the eye and let them know what’s not working and what they need to see instead. They get input and create a plan. And then they send them out again, watching closely to see if the new plan works.
If you’d like to use that time-out with your child, I dare say you’d get the blessing of even the biggest opponents of time outs. It’s not about the name. It’s about the level of connection and support. It’s about giving kids the opportunities and the tools to be successful. That doesn’t come from isolation or shame, it comes from practice and supported learning.
I’m getting ready to start my third session of my Parenting with Positive Guidance Ecourse, in fact, the first class “goes live” today! The whole course is about principles, tools, and real world applications. We don’t get bogged down in semantics and linguistic gymnastics, because it isn’t about terms, it’s about tools. Using time outs appropriately is just one of the topics addressed. Along with an overview of the philosophy of positive guidance, I share ten tools that will help guide child behavior in positive ways. These are tools that are considered best practice by child development professionals and they are tools you can start using today.
I’d love to have you join me! Registration has been extended through this weekend. Head on over to the registration page and you can jump right into today’s class material. Be sure to use the TEAM discount, and you can register for you and a partner for less than the cost of a single registration! That’s because I believe real learning takes place when you discuss information together and support each other as you implement new tools.
Head on over and read what past participants have said. You can also check out the money back guarantee and frequently asked questions. I hope to see you in class!
Explaining time outs as used in sports was the best explaination ever! It gave me a clear idea of what a time out really is for. We fortunately have fabulous kids where time outs of any name aren’t very common, but for the first time I can see where I need to change to make it a tool, not a punishment.
Fantastic! I’m one of those people who cringes at time-outs. It was eye-opening to hear that you’ve seen this practice disguised with other names. How insidious! I love that you’ve explained how to make such a practice effective and compassionate rather than damaging. That’s exactly what parents need: if I shouldn’t do X, then how the heck do I do Y?!
This is a FANTASTIC explanation of how time outs can be used, not just as a punishment. Thank you!
Love the comparison to sports. That makes so much sense and really puts connection into it. We’ve avoided using “time-outs” and this is a great way to explain to grandparents the reasoning behind our choice and the positive way to approach a situation if the need arises.
The wonderful book 1-2-3 Magic is all about time outs and is excellent. There’s nothing wrong with a kid knowing that if they cross a certain line they will need a time out…it may only be for a couple of minutes but its still a time out. He gives such clear guidelines to timeouts without anger
Sometimes you know what you’re doing but you just can’t seem to communicate it. You just made it so simple! What I especially like about this description of coaching is how simple it is. When you’ve pulled a child aside to chat for what feels like the millionth time, it’s so easy to loose sight of what you need to do. I think this image is something that can be kept in mind when blood pressure threatens to rise. Thank you, yet again, for giving a concise explanation for quality practices!
Grandpa Jim says
I’m a grandpa, and I love the explanation of a real time-out: coaching. I can easily see that the way time outs have been used can produce shame and communicate withdrawal by the parent. Way to go. Hope your class goes well.
Nicely explained the ins and outs of the phrase time out.. Good post 🙂
I started teaching in a pre-school classroom independently for the first time at the beginning of 2020. I was advised by EVERY teacher to use the dreaded Time-Out Chair.
I noticed very quickly how it didn’t help at all – it didn’t give the children any warning and often highlighted their shortcomings in a very public and humiliating way. They didn’t understand why they were being segregated from their class, or even what they did “wrong”.
I recently tried using it as more of a “take a breather” zone, so that the children can either be asked to remove themselves from a situation, or they can volunteer to use the time-out area themselves, if they’re feeling overwhelmed.
I just googled “Time Out Chair” to see if there are any better ways to do things/seek advise and I found this article.
This makes so much sense and is basically what I’ve been trying to aim for over this past year. Thank you for explaining it so well!