Too often as parents we feel like we need to deal with a bad situation immediately. However, dealing with a problem at the time of upset usually only makes a bad situation worse. The child is too upset to listen and the parent is at risk of saying or doing something they might regret. The truth is, everyone does better when they feel better! Taking some time to allow everyone to calm down BEFORE dealing with the problem sets you up for a constructive interaction.
A great tool to help everyone come at the problem at their best is a positive timeout. Negative timeouts are punitive and meant to make the child feel worse [sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done…] Positive timeouts are not meant to deal with misbehavior. Instead they are a means to help everyone calm done and then deal with the problem at a later point in time. It may seem like rewarding misbehavior, but remember it is not the solution to the problem, it is a tool to help you calmly address the problem. Think of it as taking a break ahead of a challenging conversation.
Here are three tips to work with your child to set up a positive timeout:
1. Find a Spot Ahead of Time
For a positive timeout to be effective the space must be prepared in advance. Don’t just assign a spot to you child, work with them to pick a spot that would help them calm down. It can be in their closet, a corner in their room, a special chair, or a spot outside. Designating a space for them to go when they need to calm down can help diffuse them when they are upset. Next time they lose it you can ask them “Would you like to go cool off for a bit? Do you want me to come with you, or do you want to go yourself?” While you’re at it, find your own calm down spot! Next time you are about to lose it you can model what it looks like to take a break by going to your designated spot.
2. Let Them Fill The Space
It is natural for parents to drift towards punitive when setting up a calm down spot. Again, we don’t want to reward misbehavior - but remember, a positive timeout is simply a means to calm down so you can come back together and deal with the problem. Instead of making the space boring and plain, work with your child to discover what would help them feel better. Art supplies, books, legos, or stuffed animals are all good options. Its okay if they want to stay in their calm down space for a long time! The point is not to punish them, but to help them feel better so they can actually learn from their mistake and help come up with a solution when you address it later. The only thing to avoid in a calm down space is a screen of any kind, as they will either ramp up the child’s brain or simply let them zone out. Otherwise, create a space they want to choose to go to when they are upset.
3. Come Up With a New Name
If you’ve been using negative timeouts try changing the language to help your child understand this isn’t a punishment but simply a time to calm down. Instead of saying take a timeout you can encourage your child to take a break, cool off, or go feel better. Let them know that you will deal with the situation after they have calmed down. Scheduling a time to have a conversation signals to them that you plan to deal with the problem after everyone feels better.
A positive timeout sets everyone up for success and teaches children life-skills for how to deal with upset feelings. It may take some time before they really take to their calm down spot, but after a while you’ll find they choose it before you even have to suggest it. Coming at problems with a calm and clear mind increases harmony in the home and builds better relationships!