Do you want a great alternative to time out for discipline strategies in your parenting toolbox? If you are like most parents, you are using a time out to modify your kiddo’s unwanted behavior. Today’s article gives you a great alternative to time out, so your discipline strategies avoid being punitive.
For starters, let me reiterate that:
Punishment is not the same as discipline.
Discipline is setting limits and modeling those limits in front of your child: For example,
- “Sweetie, you have to wear your life vest, so you can float in the water.”
- “You can’t pull the dog’s tail. It makes him mad, and he might bite you.”
- “It’s time to clear the kitchen table. This is how we love each other in this house.”
Punishment is imposing physical or emotional pain to stop unwanted behavior—often by withholding or seizing something of value.
- “If you don’t wear your life vest, you’re going in a time out.”
- “You pulled on the dog’s tail again—time out!”
- “If you don’t help clear the table, you’re going in a time out.”
An Alternative To A Time Out Discipline Strategy
When children misbehave, for whatever reason, we need to help them get out of their reactive state of mind and into a receptive state. When kids are hyper-aroused and stressed out, they tend to act out. Even more, they can’t think clearly, and learning is inhibited. Decades of brain research tells us that kids learn best when they are in a receptive state, not a reactive one. On the one hand, learning is more natural when kids have an empathic parent to “stay with them” when they are upset. However, some kids need some alone time to calm down, become receptive again and learn. Don’t worry. The need to be alone is a biologically based predisposition for some kiddos.
As such, a great alternative to time out is offering children some “alone time.” Unlike a time out, the goal here is not punishment. It’s not to exclude children because they blow it. Alone time is much different. The goal is to help children calm down, self-regulate, and regain control of the situation. Alone time is offered not as punishment, but as social support for children.
Here’s how this alternative discipline strategy works:
First, your kiddo needs to be understood and acknowledged. To do so, say something like, “Hey buddy, it looks like you are struggling a bit. When I was your age, I used to struggle. Why don’t you take a moment to pause on the couch, so you relax and get yourself calm again?”
After that, tell him that he gets to decide when he is ready to return to the group or situation. During alone time, you can remind him to use some relaxation techniques like closing his eyes and breathing slowly. Once he has calmed himself down, he’ll be far more receptive. The alone time will help him discover what he can and can’t handle.
Alone time will help him discover what he needs:
- A hug?
- A snack?
- More cooperation from a sibling?
Alone time will help him find out what he doesn’t need from others.
- Siblings who won’t share toys.
- Friends who always want his toys.
- Parents who give too many instructions. (just sayin…)
Next, your little-one needs some control of the situation. When your kiddo thinks he’s calm enough to return, he can signal to you that he has relaxed and back in control of himself by saying, “I think I’m ready to return.”
Last, once your kiddo has calmed down, you can talk about pro-social strategies. For example, you can talk to him about things like:
- Asking others nicely.
- Removing one’s self from a stressful situation.
- Giving others the personal space they need.
A Point to Ponder
Employing the alone-time technique sends a powerful, unspoken message:
- I noticed you need help.
- You matter to me.
- You get access to me, even when you’re emotionally reactive.
Most importantly, alone time says, “I may not like your behavior, but I accept you.”
Acceptance and understanding is something every child needs.