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Instead of Using Time Out as Punishment, Do This!

Time Outs Don’t Work!

Time outs are very commonly used when kids do something they shouldn’t, have a tantrum, or do something that upsets or hurts other people.  The thing is, as well intentioned as most parents are when they use this tactic, time outs don’t truly work. Sure they might work in the moment to get them to stop doing the behavior, but you likely won’t see any long term change in behavior as a result of time out.  I’ve heard a lot of parents (my husband included!) tell kids that they will get a time out if they don’t stop xyz, or to go to time out and think about what they’ve done. What do you think your child is really thinking when they are in time-out? About what they did wrong and how they will do better next time?  Not likely. More likely that they are thinking about how to avoid getting caught so they won’t get in trouble, that they are a bad kid, or that they’re scared to make mistakes around you. Using time outs as a consequence does not teach them why their behavior was unacceptable and what to do instead.

How To Address Misbehavior; An Alternative To Time Out

Instead, I have found it to be much more helpful and effective in the long run to teach your child to take a break to calm down, by creating a calming space in your home.  Explain to your child that at times, everyone gets upset or angry and needs time to calm down. That is normal and all feelings are always okay. What we do in response to our feelings, is not always okay, so it’s important that kids learn how to work through their feelings in appropriate ways.  Include your child in picking a spot in your home and filling it with things that might help them feel better when they are frustrated. Let them have ownership in helping to select the items, setting it up, and picking a name for the calming space!

The next time your child is having a difficult time, ask them if it would be helpful to go to their cool of space, if they would like you to go with them, or if there is anything else that they need to help them with the situation.  Do NOT force your child to go to this space. The purpose is to help them learn how to work through difficult situations, rather than inflicting punishment for age typical behaviors.

Afterward, when everyone has calmed down, you can ask your child questions about how they felt, what upset them, and what they might do differently next time.  Help them focus on solutions rather than point fingers! Many parents have the misperception that all behaviors need to be dealt with in the moment, or else they are being permissive and letting their child “get away” with the behavior.  This is not true! No one can truly be rational or reason when they’re angry, frustrated, etc. so it’s important to wait. And, your child is not “getting away with it” by waiting; you will still be addressing the behavior, problem solving, and coming up with solutions together.

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Why It’s So Important For Kids To Learn To Regulate Emotions

Have you ever felt so angry or frustrated that you acted on this emotion, then later regretted it?  Yelled at your child, threw something, said something you immediately regretted, were so angry you cried?  I’m sure so many of us have been there! It hasn’t exactly been common practice with a lot of families and even schools to teach kids how to work through their emotions, but instead we’ve been told to stop crying or get over it, or other parents distract what is upsetting their kids because they’re worried about letting them cry and be upset.  

Using a calming space can teach parents and kids both how to work through difficult emotions, avoid doing thing we will later regret, and also decrease “negative” behaviors!  Doing this with your child will be something you will wish you had done sooner.

What to Include In A Calm Down Space

I’ve created a calm down space with my daughter in our own home, and have also worked with teachers and students to do this in classrooms many times.  Some favorite items include pillows, bubble timers, putty, fidget items, stuffed animals, music, essential oils, stress balls, etc.

Another thing to keep in mind, is that you don’t necessarily have to designate a space or part of a room in your home for this.  My daughter prefers to keep her calming items in a basket and sometimes likes the living room while other times prefers her bedroom. You could instead create a calming basket, bag, box, etc. and ask your child if they would like to bring it out when they’re upset.

Here Are Some Of Our Favorite Calming Items:  

Super Z Outlet Liquid Motion Bubbler 

Vive Therapy Putty

Serenlite Stressball And Hand Therapy Gel Squeeze Exercise Ball

Original Mini Hoberman Sphere

Calm-Down Time Book

Fidget Toys by Austor

Assorted Color Sheen Glitter And Metallic Marker Pens


Photography Credit:  Molly Tierney Photography


Matt Hendon