Taking time out when frustration threatens to boil over is a good thing. It is such a good thing to do that it is important children learn to take time out without the judgment of others. If time out is seen as a punishment for bad behavior then children will reject it as the viable resource it could be. If instead, it is seen as a place to calm and recover, a place even an adult can go to when needed (and if you’re raising children, you’re likely to need a calming place), children will learn to seek out its comfort on their own. It’s all in how we see the space…
- As punishment: make it a hard, uninviting spot; a step or bench with no distractions that might keep a child from focusing on his or her terrible behavior.
- As support: make it a warm, inviting spot; a bean bag chair (that replicates a hug) or a corner with soft pillows. Fill it with a few comfort items, a stuffed animal, familiar books, and pictures of a loving family. Teach children some breathing exercises so that, while in their calming place, they can strengthen their ability to calm by engaging the brain in helpful activity.
We actually learn to change negative behavior into cooperative behavior more effectively when we are encouraged rather than when we are blamed. Children are more likely to make a shift from negative behavior when they are told the behavior is unacceptable, alongside being helped in regaining composure so that they can respond more appropriately. “Take a few moments to calm. Then we’ll work it out. I’ll help you. Take a breath with me.”
As children learn the rhythm of their own calming bodies, they will be able to return to situations more empowered to handle them. Welcome them back (or rejoin them, if you’re the one who left for a moment). Perhaps both of you will be better able to work out what seemed to be an insurmountable issue just moments before.