Time-Out: A Different Approach to a Classic Consequence

We have probably all said it as parents-“Go to your room!” “You’re in timeout!” Our intention is that our child will sit and think about the bad choice they made, possibly ponder ways to make better choices, or make the connection between poor behavior and missing out. But what if the room you send them to is full of toys and electronics? And what if they really wanted/needed a break from the activity they were just removed from?

For some kids, especially older ones, a timeout can actually be a reward. This can lead to an association between acting out and getting what they want-a seed no parent wants to plant. It might be helpful to offer this sort of “break” as a proactive solution before your child actually acts out. When you first notice your child’s cues that they are heading for a meltdown, suggest a place or two they could go to relax, regroup, or whatever you want to call it that will appeal to them. Remind them of some activities they could do there to help them center themselves-color, read, listen to music, crumple paper (or any other healthy coping skill that works for them.) This helps them learn a healthy way to get some down time.

What if this doesn’t work? What if your child continues to escalate and makes a bad choice? Let me introduce you to time-IN. This type of consequence acts as a way for your child to “give back” for their poor behavior. Older kids can benefit from additional chores for specific infractions, like cleaning a bathroom for swearing or taking on a siblings’ chores for the day if they were mean to that brother or sister. Younger ones often respond well to writing/drawing an apology letter or picture. Always keep in mind that the consequence needs to be age appropriate and realistic. A four year isn’t going to write a two page letter just like an eleven year old isn’t going to clean your gutters. It’s about the effort they put in.

As we all know, every child is different. For some kiddos, time-outs are sufficient and for others, time-ins are ineffective. Keeping expectations and consequences consistent is the key.



By: Torrie Giovinazzi, M.Ed., LPCC, NCC


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