Parenting is one of the most rewarding jobs someone can experience! But when children have problem behaviors it can be demanding and often frustrating. One parenting tool that is often used to correct problem behaviors is the time-out. Parents have been using time-outs since the 1960’s when clinical psychologist Arthur Staats developed and implemented this form of punishment on his own two year old daughter.
Teaching children to take a “break” offers the child an opportunity to manage their own behavior. Unlike time-outs, which are a form of punishment, “breaks” use discipline and teaches the child strategies to calm down or diminish the inappropriate behavior. Time-outs may stop the behavior temporarily, but in the long run children begin to see themselves as” bad” and they begin to feel bad about himself/herself.
These are steps to teaching a child how to take a “break”
• First remember that all misbehavior is communication. Try to figure out what your child is saying with his/her behavior.
• Get in touch with how you are feeling toward the child. The undesirable behavior from the children will evoke an emotional response from you. (anger, frustration, feeling of powerless)
• Remain calm and avoid a power struggle by getting angry toward the child and demanding compliance.
• When you would typically want to give a child a time-out, instead kneel down to the child and say “You need to take a break. Let’s go sit and calm down.” If the child protests, offering a choice of the location often works such as “Do you want to take your break in the kitchen where I am preparing dinner, or on the couch in the den? You can then give the child tools to calm down such as saying “Let’s calm down by ex: deep breathing/counting to ten/touch shoulders to chin. Remenber, parent using discipline and teaching coping skills will create a more cooperative child.
• It is acceptable to have the child take the break in a bean bag chair or somewhere comfortable and if needed, allow them to use a prop (book, blanket, stuffed toy, drawing paper) to help them self-calm. Never isolate the child by sending them to their room as this only causes resentments. Remember, we are not punishing the child, but teaching and reinforcing behaviors that are desirable through discipline.
• Tell the child that when they are calm they can return to the room and then process what occurred. Refrain from being judgmental but listen and encourage the child to express what they are feeling.
• Lastly, tell them you love them and tell them you appreciate them taking the break.
Transitioning from time-outs to breaks may take a little time for the child (and parent!) to adjust but in the long run you will have a more secure, self reliant, responsible, and happier child. As the parent, you will begin to feel more confident and less frustrated as problem behaviors improve. Teaching your child how to self-calm gives him/her a coping skill that will last a life time!