The How To Dos

Why Time Out Doesn’t Work

Many Early Childhood educators today are being told that they are not allowed to use time out. Today while attending a Challenging Behaviors training a topic of discussion came up and of course it was… TIME OUT. Some preschools shared that they use TIME OUT, some shared that they are not allowed to, while others said they use it but they do not call it TIME OUT. So after this training I realized that the most important factor was not JUST whether we use time out or not but what we see as a time out.

A time out is a break from play or activities. When we are angry (even as adults) it is important to have the opportunity to stop and think or step away from a problem. It is not a break from play that makes time out ineffective. It is how time out is implemented. When time out is used as a punitive punishment to isolate a child from others it is emotionally harmful to a child. Often a child will feel shamed and revengeful rather than sorry and empathetic for their wrongs.

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What am I doing here?  

As educators we want children to grow so that they will independently be able to solve problems and conflicts. If we take control by sending a child to time out we are throwing up several barriers against this goal:
– isolation in time out to “think” about a problem is often cognitively challenging to a child. A child may not be able to separate their emotional brain from their problem solving brain. If a child has not had the opportunity to be a part of problem solving prior to the conflict they will not have anything to think about in time out – they need help walking through the steps of a conflict so that they know what their “good choice” options are.
– sending a child to time out takes away their opportunity to be independent. We take away the power from children to be actively engaged in resolving conflicts when we send them to time out. A child needs to have power over fixing a problem so that they are able to resolve conflicts on their own.
– often a child is sent to time out and is given attention by the teacher or other students which often is the reason for misbehavior in the first place. This allows the child to obtain the desired outcome in the first place without being held accountable for their actions (time out does not stipulate the need to make a mend with another or to change action towards a better choice option).
– time out allows for a big ugh-oh to happen on the teacher’s part. The ugh-oh I left you there for 15 minutes and now you have been sitting there for much longer than intended. Now who owes who an apology?

So is it ok to let a child take a time out? Of course. If it was their choice. A child can learn how to say sorry or I will change what I am doing so I can stay here – but it is also acceptable for a child to say I do not want to talk about it. It is ok for a child to need a break before discussing a conflict. If a child needs time to cool down or walk away this is a self regulation strategy that even adults implement. Don’t tell me you have never told the love of your life to give you space before you boil over.

What is our obligation as teachers to children during discipline and problem solving?
– help children resolve problems with assistance until they are ready to do so on their own
– help children label feelings such as anger, sadness, worry, scared, etc.
– help children monitor their own emotional cues (e.g. I can see that you are not ready to come back to the sand pit because you are clenching your fits and breathing heavy. Are you still angry? Can I help you take a deep breathe or would you like to do something else until you are ready?)
– build a tool kit of resources with children that help them positively socially engage, resolve conflicts, and self regulate their emotions
– help children adapt their behaviors to positive choices (sometimes this means asking a child to leave an area until they can be safe, this is not a time out)
-keep all children safe and assist each child in feeling a part of the community
– help children find positive outlets to release anger (bottled up anger is not good for anyone)

Although I was a bit charged about the promotion of time out my take away from the training today was to identify the source of the challenging behavior (attention seeking, revenge based, feelings of inadequacy, or desire to have power) and to allow children to release emotion physically (even if it means hitting a pillow. These take aways highlight the importance of identifying the source in order to address a solution and allowing for children to release energy before it becomes aggression targeting a person.

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