Positive Time Out

Parents have been using time outs as a consequence for their kids’ behaviours for a while now.  The way that they’ve been used can sometimes come across as a disguised punishment.  We tell kids to go to time out to think about their behaviour and we try to make sure that time out is not pleasant either.  Kids can go to their room but they can’t read or play while they are there because, “It should not be fun!”

So let’s rewind!    

Let’s look at time out from a different perspective or as a positive time out.  A positive time out (PTO) is used as a cooling off period and is presented to out kids in a much different way.  It allows the child to learn to self-soothe and regulate his/her own emotions.  It allows for calming down before a new behaviour is possible.  Here’s the “recipe” for PTO.

– Talk to your child about how we all need cooling off periods when we our emotions and behaviour start to get out of control.  Tell your child what you do to cool off before you “lose it”.  Do you walk away and go sit in your room, or the bathroom and take 5 minutes to regain your composure? … Or is knitting your release?……Or…….

– Explain to your child that once emotions get too “BIG” we can’t carry them anymore and then we usually can’t think or act in a positive way any longer.  So a PTO will help us.

– Brainstorm with your child where they might like to go for their cooling off period.  It might be their bedroom, the cozy corner in the family room or a little alcove tucked under the stairs.  Ask them what they might like to have in this area that would help them cool off.  Books?  A favourite pillow or stuffy?  A comfy blanket?  Then help them to create this area for themselves.

So next time you see a temper tantrum starting to boil you calmly say to your child, “Would it be helpful for you to have a PTO now?”  If the PTO place is a place that they have created and have made cozy they are more that likely to want to go there. BUT remember not to use this as a punishment.

After a certain amount to time you and can go back into your child’s PTO area and ask, “Are you ready to talk about what happened and about what we can do next time?”  If you get a negative response or none just say, “I see you’re not ready to talk so come and find me when you are.”  Once everyone has calmed down, then some constructive problem solving can start to take place.  Children and adults do better when they feel better.

If your child refuses to go to his/her time out place then you say, “Well I need a time out.” and you go for a time out and return when you have calmed down.  (Of course, you are not leaving your child unattended at this time but you might go to your bedroom for a few minutes or walk around the house or go up and down the stairs a few times.) You’re modelling emotional regulation for your child.  Do not think that you are letting your child GET AWAY WITH IT!!!  You are NOT!  You are letting things calm down before addressing the issue.

Why you ask?  Well as Jane Nelsen jokingly puts it: “”When children push your buttons, you react from your reptilian brain, and reptiles eat their young.”  We all need to be in our adult brains, not our reptilian brains.  See the post on Anger to  learn about the cycle of anger.

NOTE: Young children under the age of about 2 1/2 do not understand the concept of time out and it should not be used with them.  You may want instead to ask, “Do you want to sit here with your blanket/teddy/pillow for a while?”


Get creative!!  The more kids put into their space, the more they’ll want to use it!

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