Parents ask me all the time my thoughts about “time out” and my answer varies depending on the parent’s answer to the following questions:
1) How old is the child?
I do not believe in using “time out” before the age of 3, preferably not until at least 4 nd even then I’m not a huge fan. If you must use it though due to the environment, high number of kids, or lack of a better option, limit it to under 5 minutes or follow the rule of thumb, 1 minute per each year of age. A three year old should not be in time out for longer than 3 minutes.
2) Why are you putting them in “time out”?
This answer usually helps us find an alternative consequence. For example, if the parent says the child needs to be in time out because they can’t share their toys then we might try an “I allow statement” started with a trigger world like, “Uh oh”. It sounds like this, “Uh, oh! I’ve noticed you’re having trouble sharing. I allow kids who share to play games”. When the child doesn’t share, use the trigger phrase, “Uh, oh” again and remove the item or game. When you’re issuing natural consequences like this there’s no need to threaten or get angry. This can be done with a sift, calm voice and a smile.
If you’d like to put them in time out because they’re throwing a tantrum, then we try a “Cool Down Corner” instead (see below)
3) What’s your goal?
Often the parents will say, “I need them to know their behavior is not appropriate!” Well, if that’s the case, then you need to use your words and say, “Your behavior is not appropriate.” Some parents argue their child is too young to know the word “inappropriate”, but if that’s the case, aren’t they also too young to understand the correlation between sitting in a corner alone and their previous actions?
If a parent-child relationship is intact and the word “inappropriate” is used with an unhappy face on the adult, the child will understand the meaning of the word. Inappropriate means mom is not happy. It’s that simple!
Cool Down Corner:
I think toddlers and young kids are often misunderstood. They don’t throw tantrums because they’re going through a “phase”. Nor do they throw tantrums because they’re mean or bad. They often throw tantrums because they lack the vocabulary and skills to communicate needs and feelings, they’re frustrated, their routine has been interrupted, or they’re physical or emotional needs are not being met. In this case, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions before moving to the Cool Down Corner:
“Do they need me words and skills to help them communicate their needs right now and be their voice?”
“Are they frustrated and perhaps need me to model a few ways to solve the problem?”
“Has their routine or schedule been interupted by external influences recently?”
If the answers to these questions don’t bring you to an alternate resolution, then it’s time for the Cool Down Corner. This corner is NOT intended as “punishment” or embarassment. This is a sanctuary for the child to cool off, gather composure, and regroup. You or a caregiver may offer to join them in their corner, but you MUST respect their decision if they tell you no.
Ideas for a Cool Down Corner:
- Teepee, fort, extra closet, under a desk, or the corner of a playroom
- Include comfort items like stuffed animals, lovies, blankets, and pillows
- Choose books with serene pictures, calming images, or I Spy
- Include sensory items like bubbles, pompom balls, yarn, cotton, gel packs, tension balls
- Fill colored balloons with sand or cornstarch and draw emotions on the front
- Put feeling cards in a tub and let kids identify their feelings based on the photos
- Add items that can be “destroyed” like egg cartons, bubble wrap, styrofoam, foil
- Add low level lighting with lamps or a lava lamp
When you think the child needs a break, let them know it’s time to go to the Cool Down Corner and they may return when they’re sweet.
Ex: “You seem (fill in the blank by labeling the emotion). I bet some time in your cool down corner will help. I love you. See you when you’re sweet”.
- High stimulation activities in the corner
- Using this place as punishment
- Ordering them or demanding them there
- Wrestling them into the corner
We want to keep the cool down corner a positive experience. Adults often need a break and some alone time to cool off and regroup. Kids are no different!
What’s your philosophy on time out?