Dear Miss Patti,
What is your opinion of 'time in'?
— Time in/out and away
Dear Time in/out and away,
There is a lot of talk about time outs in parenting circles. It honestly doesn’t matter what you call it; time out, time in, or time away — it’s about the message we send.
In most of these occasions, it's us as parents that need a break because we’ve reached a point of meltdown. We’re frustrated that they are not listening or behaving the way we would like. It was encouraged (and still is) to give your child a time out one minute for each year, and although this is not necessarily bad practice it is not the best practice. It’s sending the message that we are done with them and need them far away from us. Granted that IS how we feel at times. But it’s not solving the problem at hand. The child is so focused on figuring out why we don’t like them in that moment, and it brings up so much shame for them, we usually don’t learn the lesson when it’s coming from a place of shame. We either create people pleasers, children who will do anything to gain your affection back, or avoiders, children who will figure out a sneaky way to pinch their brother to avoid the time out. This is not the message or the adult we want to help create.
We want to give them skills to use for their life. The whole point of the time out is more about catching your breath, calming down and letting our rational brains think. It should not be a punitive thing. If you feel you need a time out, then just say that: "I think we could both use a break. Let’s get a drink of water/read a book/take a walk…” and keep suggesting things until the tears and anger subsides and you get a teary nod or OK. When you’re both a bit calmer, explain what happens to the brain when we are upset. It doesn’t think so well, and we need to calm down so that we can think better.
If you’re at an extreme boiling point and don’t think you can say these things in a calm way, then make sure you have an inviting corner in your house that’s comfy and maybe have a box of extra special things that are only available during these times. (Bubbles, playdough, special smelly markers, squishy toys, one of their favourite books, etc.) Have a comfy chair set up close so that you can model you are also taking time to calm down. It’s so important to model to children that you need these times too. “It sounds like it’s time for the comfy corner. Let’s go take a break.” Then go. If they are still crying and carrying on, they will watch you take a break and probably follow suit. If they are still at your feet trying to get your attention in this way, just calmly repeat the direction until they hear it. “It sounds like you are still upset and needing a break.”
After your break, when everyone is calm and accessing their logical brain, talk it through. What was going on? Why were you so upset? There is no point addressing it when both of you are upset because they probably wouldn’t even know at that moment. Also model some self-talk. “Man, I sure feel so much better when I can take some deep breaths and calm myself down. Reading my book/drinking water (whatever it is you did) really helps me to calm down and think better.”
Think of how many of us could benefit from this skill as adults? Knowing when to walk away and take a breath in order to address problems in a calm way would help with so many conflicts. We would be able to address problems in a much calmer, rational way. Let’s start teaching them this skill now
Check out this read aloud version of Jared’s Cool-Out Space by Jane Nelson, where they create the space together!
— Miss Patti
Send your questions to Miss Patti at firstname.lastname@example.org