TIME-OUTs: What message do they relay?

Someone once told me, when a child is having a tantrum because it seems like the worst thing that could have ever happened to them, maybe it IS the worst thing that has ever happened to them in their 1/2/3 years of existence. We tend to forget that these little souls still have SO much to learn about this world through experiences, and when they do not know how to cope, that is when they act out, BUT that is also when they need us the MOST!

I know many parents/teachers/caregivers that put kids in a “time-out” when they are misbehaving/ acting out/ having a tantrum. I was quite curious as to what kids must be thinking when they are given a “time-out.” In searching through many articles, I came across this recent one in Time Magazine that explained that “time-outs” are actually harming our children! The article talks about how we are sending a message to our little children that “when they make a mistake, or when they are having a hard time, they will be forced to be by themselves.” What a scary thought, even as an adult. The last thing a little child needs is to be put in isolation when they are having a hard time.

So instead of “time-outs,” the suggestion is to focus on “time-ins.” What does this mean? Well instead of saying “go sit in the corner by yourself,” you can try “let me sit with you and when you calm down we can look at why this is bothering you (although you don’t have to use that many words).” It sounds idealistic in the moment when you are in the middle of Target and the tantrum begins. But, next time try distraction – my favorite right now is “OMG look at that big bug in the corner, what is he doing??? Do you see it, do you?!” (meanwhile, there is no bug – but in looking for it, they kind of forget what they were crying about in the first place – most of the time). Kids start the tantrum for attention, but try to find out what kind of attention, usually screaming and threatening them with leaving is not it. For older kids, try talking it out… “Why do you need these shoes right now? I think they are tired and need to rest like when you are tired, so let’s wear these other shoes for now and we can check on them later.” In trying these methods, you will give your kids a chance to be empowered to control their emotions and potentially/hopefully create better coping mechanisms for dealing with them. Have you tried any “time-in” techniques that have worked during a major meltdown?


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