National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter
Elaine Wilson, Ph.D.
Oklahoma State University
Several recent conference sessions of the National Association for the Education of Young Children dealt with the issue of time-out. The session titles included “No more time-outs,” “Guidance without time-out,” “Taming the time-out monster,” and “Time-out is out.” These titles suggest that time-out may be on its way out. What happened to what we once considered the answer to every discipline problem? The following are some commonly asked questions about the use of time-out.
– When children spend the entire time-out asking if it is over yet, are they really thinking about what they did? Or are they thinking about what I did and about how to get out of time-out?
– What do you do when they won't stay in time-out? We can't tie them to the chair.
– What if one child spends most of the time in time-out? That child may never learn how to play with others. He or she just sits in time-out, angry.
Perhaps we used time-out for punishment. Punishing children for doing the wrong thing rarely works as well as teaching them how to do the right thing. Time-out can be very different from Dennis the Menace sitting in the corner or a school-ager standing with her nose in a circle drawn on the chalkboard. Think of time-out for an attitude adjustment, not a punishment. Use consequences for punishment. Consequences teach children how to make amends. Use time-out to help children gain self-control.
One teacher uses the book, *Alexander's Horrible No Good Very Bad Day* by Judith Viorst as a theme. One corner of the classroom is Australia with a map of the island on the floor, a palm tree, a koala bear, large pillows, and calming music. Anyone having a bad day – parents and staff as well as children – could go to Australia to get their act together. Children learn how to gain self-control in socially acceptable ways through personal experience and by watching adults and other children model appropriate behavior.
Many children and adults cannot calm down by sitting still in a chair. They need a time-out that allows for the release of physical tension like hitting, pounding, walking, or running. Most programs have outdoor play areas, indoor motor rooms, and large and small motor activities such as play dough, woodworking, and climbing that meet these needs. Teach children a variety of acceptable ways to deal with their anger and frustration. Then trust them to choose the time-out that will work best for them.
Some people gain control of themselves through prayer and meditation or talking with a friend. Some use singing, writing, yelling, screaming, throwing, sleeping, or eating to calm themselves. There are many styles and types of time-out. It is unreasonable to expect everyone to gain self-control using the same time-out chair.
Are children ever punished? Shouldn't we punish them when they misbehave? Can they get away with anything? Our role is to guide them toward appropriate behavior. Teach them how to gain self-control. Then, work on consequences. They may need to repair or replace what broke, clean up a mess, or give up a privilege. Often as a consequence of misbehavior we must deal with a friend we hurt or offended. Most of us need to calm ourselves first. Then, we can face the consequences.
Is time-out over? No. We have only just begun to use time-out in new ways for children and adults in many settings. And, when the time-out is over our guidance has only just begun. Time-out provides the adult and the child the calm needed to work out new solutions to difficult situations.
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Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Wilson, E. (1994). Is time-out over?. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *Child care center connections*, 3(5), pp. 3-4. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.