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Time-outs

Using time-outs to stop tantrums

The Magic Ways outlined earlier in this book (Magic Ways 1 to 5) are very effective in most situations, but will not prevent all tantrums all of the time. For more extreme tantrums or situations where tension runs high, such as a fight with siblings, younger children might find themselves too overwhelmed with emotions. Listening, showing empathy and suggesting fun solutions might not be enough for parents to help defuse these tantrums. In these more extreme cases, parents have found success with time-out strategies. With time-outs, parents decide to take their children to a “quiet zone” where the child gets the opportunity to calm down and regain composure. A “quiet zone” is a safe area where children can retreat to cool down. Jane Nelsen, Ed.D. writes in her book “Positive discipline” that “strong emotions can feel overwhelming to a young child. A positive time-out gives them an opportunity to calm down and catch their breath, so they are able to work with you to solve the problem”. A quiet zone will help them become calmer in a safe place, without further engaging in fights or arguments.

But how can parents use quiet zones in an effective way? Thomas W. Phelan, Ph.D., author of “1-2-3 Magic”, recommends that parents calmly count to 3 before asking a child to go to their quiet zones. Counting to three gives children opportunities to calm down and change their behaviors. Here is how Thomas W. Phelan describes the process of counting to three, and enforcing the time-out when children continue their tantrums: “You hold up one finger, look down at your noisy little devil, and calmly say, “that’s 1”. He doesn’t care. He’s insane with rage (…). You let five seconds go by, then you hold up two fingers and say “that’s 2”. That’s all you say. But you get the same lousy reaction. So after five more seconds, you hold up three fingers and say “that’s 3”. Take five.” In this case, the child did not stop the tantrum when the parent counted to three, so the child will need to go to their quiet zone for a time-out. We recommend that children stay in their quiet zone for 1 minute for year of age (3 minutes for a 3-year old child, and 5 minutes for a 5-year old child). After a few minutes in their quiet zone and after regaining their composure, children can return to the original setting and work out solutions with the help of their parents. Nothing is said about the argument or the tantrum, as it is not desirable at this point to get into a heated discussion again.

When parents first implement the time-out strategy, children will likely not be responsive to this new method and will continue their tantrums. This means that parents will need to use the quiet zone quite often in the first few days. However, after a few days, children will start understanding the consequences of their behavior, and will start calming down after “1” or “2” and be more open to a constructive discussion to find solutions to their problems. The time-out method gives parents an easy method to respond to tantrums that seem out of control, and gives children an opportunity to understand that screaming or crying are not appropriate nor expected ways to behave. The method is not always easy to implement, however, as it often requires parents to be consistent and persevere for a few days, when children may be not responsive to the new method.
Key take-aways to using time-outs to stop tantrums:

1) Parents and children can build a “quiet zone”. In this safe area, children can retreat to cool down and regain composure in situations where tension runs high.

2) Parents count to 3 before asking a child to go to their quiet zone. Counting to 3 gives the child an opportunity to calm down and change their behaviors.

3) At first, children may not be responsive to this new method and may continue their tantrums. However, after a few days, they will start understanding the consequences of their behavior, and will start calming down after “1” or “2”. The process can initially feel a bit nerve-racking for the parents. However, parents need to remain consistent in their enforcement as everyone learns this new method.

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