Time-Out Alternatives

If you watched The Supernanny in the early 2000’s you probably saw some variation of “supernanny” Jo Frost walking a crying child back to the Naughty Corner over and over. Fast forward many minutes (hours?) to the child finally sitting quietly while Jo celebrates the “win” with the parents. 
 
The beauty of TV (and being a nanny) is that that’s all you get to see. You don’t have to see what happens next. Sure, in the moment it appears like the child is (finally) doing what the parent has asked. But these strategies trade short term “gain” for long term pain. Time to look for some time-out alternatives.
Letting Kids Fail
Those of us who silently cringed seeing the naughty corner rightly intuited what research has since shown- that time-outs don’t work in the long-term. Here’s some reasons why time-outs don’t work:
  • Time-outs are based on the faulty idea that children can reflect on their behaviour (“You sit here and think about what you did!”). Children, especially young children, simply don’t have the capacity for self-reflection.
  • Sitting in time-out when in a heightened emotional state means that a child is left on their own to manage those big feelings. Self-regulation is a fragile and emerging skill, especially in early childhood. Children require the support of a caregiver to co-regulate with them in order to calm (something that can’t be done while sitting alone on the naughty bench).
  • The skills required to self-regulate are primarily housed in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex which doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20’s!
  • Most importantly, time-outs have the potential to create mistrust and distance between a child and their parent. The impact on the relationship may be one of the biggest consequences of time-outs. In the end, relationship difficulties often end up increasing the very behaviour we are trying to reduce.
  • Time-outs are rarely carried out the way that researchers have tested. Children often resist being taken to time-out.  They may refuse to move or continue to leave their designated spot. Parents may then resort to physically or aggressively moving their child to the time-out or blocking a door to ensure their upset child doesn’t leave the room. This can have a cascading impact on the child and the parent-child relationship.
 What can you do instead of time-outs? Here are 5 time-out alternatives: 
  1. Time-in: Instead of leaving your child on their own to calm, why not go with them and do a time-in. Our focus should be on helping the child calm and building a child’s capacity to tolerate big feelings. Building emotion regulation skills is a long-game (if you’re like many of us ashleigh, you’re still working on it too. If so, check out the podcast episode below).
  2. Problem Solve: Despite popular belief, we know kids don’t learn from punishment. Punishment may actually increase challenging behaviours. If we want children to avoid engaging in a certain behaviour, we have to figure out what was underneath the surface of that behaviour. What is the root of the behavior we are seeing? Then we can focus on problem solving. Is your child being disruptive at the dinner table because they need to move more before sitting to eat? Instead of threats and punishments (leave the table!), encourage them to run around in the backyard before supper or do jumping jacks or other physical movements that may help solve the real problem.
  3. Check ourselves: It’s helpful to ask “who is this a problem for?”. Is my child’s behavior a problem right now or am I being triggered? Are my expectations in line with what my child is currently capable of and not what I think they “should” be capable of (don’t should all over yourself. it’s not a good look). What can I do to calm myself in order to handle this situation effectively (listen below for ideas).
  4. Avoid the unexamined “no”: It’s important to set and hold boundaries with our children and to allow them to feel whatever feelings those boundaries bring up for them. Our job is to hold those boundaries, not to convince our child not to have big feelings about them. Boundaries work best when we have really reflected on what is a necessary boundary rather than reflexively saying “no” to things without thinking. Take stock of your boundaries and reduce them to the necessary ones only. Your child will take more notice if they are not constantly being told “no”.
  5. Talk less. Empathize more: When challenges arise and big feelings overwhelm our children, our own anxiety or frustration often rises with it, leading us to over-talk and over-explain. We dive right into why the child shouldn’t have done what they did and why it was wrong and what they should do instead. Except our children process none of this. The part of the brain responsible for logic and problem solving (hello again, prefrontal cortex) has gone offline. The child has flipped their lid. They need us to be a calm presence in the most simple and humble way. Be near. Model empathy with your body language and facial expression. Keep your words simple and abstract by saying something like, “oooh that was so hard”.

Struggling to figure out why your child is having meltdowns? I’ve got you covered with these 4 often overlooked reasons

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For a deeper dive into managing our own triggers, listen to Episode 41.

Listen to Episode 41: From Triggered to Tranquil: Helping clients use self-compassion to heal childhood wounds

Dr. Tamara Soles is joined by Dr. Susan Campbell to discuss her new book From triggered to Tranquil: How Self-compassion and Mindful Presence can Transform Relationship Conflicts and Heal Childhood Wounds. Dr. Campbell shares her proven 5 steps to understanding your trigger signature and gaining mastery over those almost automatic trigger responses. Whether triggered by a child or a partner, she shares her strategies for slowing down, reflecting, and even repairing after a trigger response.  We also discuss common parent triggers and what to do when a child is ready to repair but the parent is not. 

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