Time outs reframed as “safe space”

Constructive ways to help your child cool down

Constructive ways to help your child cool down

The practice of “time out” – i.e. removing a misbehaving child to a quiet room to be alone – is under re-evaluation. Writing for Popsugar, child psychologist and mom of three children under the age of five, Jennifer Frechette, offers both personal and professional perspective on this method. She reminds us the idea is not to punish or humiliate, but to help a child learn to “self regulate.” Rather than “time out,” she prefers the term “safe space.”

Frechette cites a 2016 study that found approximately 76% of parents used time-out as a form of discipline. “But more importantly,” she writes, “the survey found that way parents define and implement time-outs is diverse.”

As a parent and a former preschool teacher, I learned about time outs a little over twenty years ago, when the term was still somewhat new. I learned that one size does not fit all. I angrily placed my raging toddler son in a room by himself once, and two decades-plus years later, I still feel like it was a mistake. He got very, very upset, and did not, in fact, calm down. After that, I learned how to redirect him. I.e., I talked sternly to him, and did not allow him to play with certain things he wanted, but I didn’t shut him away by himself, howling in protest. He became mostly very well behaved eventually.

READ MORE: Creating a calm down corner

At the preschool, I frequently removed one spirited girl in particular from the group. She had a hard time playing well with others. I would take her to a back room and sit with her, talking in measured tones about what she’d done. She eventually got herself together.

According to Frechette, initiating a mindful dialog with a misbehaving child is key: “First, the child should be asked if they are feeling angry, frustrated, or any other feeling you may suspect,” she writes. “This helps give your child the emotional vocabulary and also reminds them to check-in with their body and feelings. If your child continues to escalate and begins to tantrum, calmly and clearly (if you have any patience left) tell them they need to go to their safe space.”

This safe space, Frechette maintains, “should provide the child with a variety of sensory tools to help them calm down. This may include a comfy sitting area, books, music (try to avoid anything with screens), a punching pillow, a chalk board, access to clay, weighted blanket, drawing tools or paint, yoga cards, or mindfulness tools.”

After some time, Frechette says checking in on the child is important, and asking them questions. These respectful, but firm tactics, which should be employed consistently, can go a long way to helping an unhappy kid find their way back.

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