The Time-Out Alternative That May Be More Effective

by Sanya Pelini August 20, 2017

Little boy awake in bed 

The self-quieting approach has long been presented as a powerful alternative to punishment and time-out. It is an approach that encourages kids to look within to find their own solutions to their problems. Self-quieting has also been referred to as time-in or positive time-out. The approach is based on the argument that kids learn more from positive interactions than they do from negative ones. In other words, the approach suggests that when we isolate kids or use harsh punitive approaches, the behavior we’re attempting to modify is unlikely to change. Self-quieting works by helping kids stop and quiet down. It has been associated with reduced stress and anxiety and has also been reported to help reduce misbehavior.

How to adopt a self-quieting approach

1 | Help your child create a self-quieting space

A self-quieting space is a space where your child can go to if he needs to unwind. It’s a space that can help him calm down. Self-quieting spaces are comfortable spaces – with pillows, books, puzzles, drawings – in which he can distract himself and calm down enough to reflect on what was initially bothering him. Your child decides how long he’ll stay in the self-quieting space. In other words, there’s no set time. Once he feels calm, he can leave his space.

2 | Talk about what’s going on

The easiest way to reduce “misbehavior” is to talk about it. When your child is calm, find out why she acted like she did. Ask her to come up with alternative ways she can express her emotions. Remember that helping kids learn to identify their emotions goes a long way to reducing “misbehavior.” Instead of focusing on the past – “how should you have acted” – focus on the future – “how will you act next time?”

3 | Create your own self-quieting space

The self-quieting approach doesn’t work like magic. There are occasions on which it might fail. You may decide to send your child to her self-quieting space, but she won’t necessarily want to go or stay there. Moreover, sending her to this space might fail to calm her down or reduce misbehavior. Reacting to your kids’ behavior when you’re angry is likely to leave you both upset. On such occasions, your own self-quieting space can help you calm down before dealing with your child.

4 | Connect on a physical level

It’s important for kids to know that disciplining them does not mean we love them less. You might not want to hug your son when he’s acting out and driving you up the wall, but you don’t have to. Even touching him on the arm or taking his hands before sending him to his self-quieting space shows him that you care.

5 | Connect on an emotional level

Children’s behavior is mostly driven by emotions. A girl who feels lonely at school because she has no friends might act out every morning because she doesn’t want to go to school. A boy who’s scared of losing his parents after a death in the family might have more trouble falling asleep and staying in bed. When we understand the link between emotions and behavior, we are better able to connect on an emotional level and redefine our perception of misbehavior. Practicing empathy also helps us teach kids to react to others with empathy.

6 | Differentiate between minor issues and major issues

There’s a difference between a child trying to get your attention by whining and one who consistently turns to aggressive or dangerous behavior to get your attention. Time-in can work, but by no means does it work in every situation or with every child. When you keep using time-in for recurrent misbehavior, it might mean that you need to change your discipline strategy. Kids need to know the consequences for serious misbehavior. They need to know what behavior is inappropriate. When time-in fails to reduce misbehavior or appears as an inappropriate response to certain behavior, positive time-out might be a solution. Although much criticism has been leveled against time-out over the past few years, the biggest problem with time-out is that it is often used inappropriately. Indeed, if used appropriately, time-out can be an effective approach to suppress specific misbehavior.

Sanya Pelini


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