Time Out

I have found myself, several times this last week, sitting on our stairs and listening to my kids play together. It is entertaining, and enlightening, and just so much fun, to hear them talk to each other and create different role play games.

When you think about the phrase, “time out,” the first thing that comes to mind is our kids, and how we discipline them when they are naughty. And that seems to happen in my house quite a bit these days. I have a 4-year old. And she is pushing all the buttons and trying to push the boundaries to get away with as much as she can. The other day, I found her in my office with a sharpie, writing on the wall. I sent her to time out, and then made her help me clean it off with the magic eraser. Then the next day, she got scissors out of her sister’s desk and cut the straps off of her tap shoes.

Sometimes kids act out overtly, like what Caitlyn did last week in both instances. Other times, they are acting out because they are exhausted, and throw a fit because we tell them no, or just because, and they need that few minutes of quiet time by themselves to re-set and just take a breather. Half the time when this is the case, my kids fall asleep in the time out chair. I used to move them up to their beds…now I just leave them there and let them sleep, however uncomfortable it looks to me!

Our daughter, Caitlyn, asleep in the time out chair.

We all need those few minutes of “time out” when we are overwhelmed. Do you ever take it for yourself? I mentioned a few weeks ago that I sometimes freak out about schedule changes and I take some time to step back and evaluate how we can make the changes work for us. Taking a little bit of time for yourself to take a breather when you need it is a vital part of parenting, and life. Whether it is our kids, our spouse or partner, or work colleagues or bosses, sometimes people make us mad. How we deal with the mad is what makes us better people, and better examples for our kids.

My son, who is 7 ½, is also constantly pushing and never taking no for an answer. Or fighting with his little sister (or big sister), or talking back, or doing any number of things. He still gets time out a few times each week. And he is the most likely kid to fall asleep while in time out.

Our son, Thatcher, having a moment to pout while out to eat.

And my oldest, at 15, gets mad at me. When we are having a “discussion,” as we did just the other day, she stormed out several times and went for a walk. I gave her that time to chill and come back to finish our discussion.

Each of our kids – at every age – needs to learn how to control their emotions and when we put them in time out or give them breathing room to re-set their attitude, or when we show them that we are doing that ourselves, we are showing them how to handle big things. Emotions are hard. Feelings can be overwhelming, especially for the littles, but for all of us.

I remember one time when I was in high school, we had a foreign exchange student staying with us, and I shared my room with her. She was packing to go home and I was in a snit over something else, and my grandmother (who also lived with us at the time) told me to go help Nadia pack and I told her (my grandmother) off. Then I went for a walk and one of my friends saw me walking and took me for an ice cream. I took the time to cool off before I went back home. My mom made me apologize for the delivery but not the anger behind it. I constantly think about that lesson as I teach my kids how to handle their emotions. We are all entitled to our feelings, and love, hurt, and anger are all part of life. But teaching our kids that they can be angry, but can’t lash out at each other or us is the hard part.  

I very much appreciate my mom and her lesson more today than I did at the time. It was important that I apologize for swearing at my grandmother, and I’m pretty sure I said something else about her not being my mom so she couldn’t tell me what to do. My grandmother had been living with us for two years at that point, and had moved in with us after my uncle went to Vermont for a visit and found that she was no longer taking care of herself. She ended up living with us until after I went to college, and as I look back I now know that she really helped my parents out. She took care of us after school and made dinner for all of us many nights during the week while my parents were working. But she was also kind of a grumpy curmudgeon and I resented her. I know today that I was lucky to have her there. Especially now that my kids are getting big and I rely on all the grandparents quite a bit to help me out.

Keeping in mind that we are our children’s best example is hard. Keeping our own emotions in check is also hard. I’ve been known to lose my temper, as I did with my grandmother when I was 14 years old. I have been known to yell at my kids. I’ve asked myself, “will they ever listen the first time?” Or the first three times? Recently, I’ve been trying to give my kids 3 strikes – if I ask three times and they don’t listen, then I ramp it up. Or I remind them I’ve now asked 4 times and they are going to lose something else – whether it is a toy that they have left out or going out for ice cream – and that usually works.

I also think it’s important to pick a place for time out and stick to it. At our house, we have a big chair in the living room that serves as time out. When two kids are in trouble, it’s the chair and the stairs. And I used to use the stairs as the main spot when my oldest was little. If we are traveling, I put the child in timeout and try to go to a different room (if we have one) or just turn my back and don’t pay attention to the fit. A little lesson from when our oldest daughter was little? We were renting a small apartment for a few months while my husband and I were working in Denver, and Alyson was about 2. We put her in timeout in her bedroom, because it had a door and it was easier to do that when I was making dinner in the kitchen. And it backfired on us, because she refused to go to bed at night since she had a negative association with the room. So, I don’t recommend time outs in their bedrooms!

Do you have stubborn children? I do! With our oldest, I would spend 20 minutes trying to keep her in timeout and by the time she finally stayed, I would forget why she was in trouble in the first place. It was much more effective to just walk out of the room and leave her wherever she was – taking away whatever toy or thing she was getting in trouble for – than to remove her and try to make her stay in the time out spot. Our son was always easier, since he would stay in the chair, and our youngest is hit or miss on staying put. The point of it all is to give them that few minutes by themselves to calm down, though. Whether it’s 5 minutes or 15, as long as they calm down and quit crying or yelling at you, the time out has served its purpose.

It’s hard to be the bad guy, but kids need to learn when “no” means NO. Boundaries are good for them!

How long does it take you to calm down when you’re mad? Remember that when your kids get upset. Also, take into consideration why they are mad. I try to give them a few minutes to calm down, and when I think they’ve had time to chill for a bit, I go talk to them and try to figure out what’s really wrong. Then I tell them they have a few more minutes in time out and they’ve lost that toy or whatever it is for the rest of the day…or the week, depending on the infraction. I put toys they’ve lost up on the top of the hutch so they can see it and remember they lost it, and they usually ask me a few days later if they can have it back. If they are fighting over something, same goes.

Remember that we all need to take a “time out” when we get upset. Take that time for yourself when you need it, and show your kids that you’re doing that. It’s ok for our kids to see us as less than perfect. How we handle those situations teaches our kids how they should behave when they get upset. And if they see us handling the less than perfect times, they may not do or say anything now, but they will remember it later. They will reflect back on how we handled things when they are grown and have their own kids, just as I remember how my mom did it years ago.

I’ve often said that my mom was “super mom,” always making it to all of our swim meets, awards ceremonies, band concerts and other important stuff, being a swimming official, and serving on church boards and school committees, all while working full time and climbing the corporate ladder. I now know that she struggled with how to juggle all of life while she did all that, but I never saw that struggle in my impressions of her. And I know she had help, from my grandmother, neighbors, friends, and other parents. Just as I do today. So I’m thankful for all of the help I get, and for my mom and all she did for me and my siblings. And I’m happy to take a few minutes of “time out” when I can get them, to catch up with myself and re-center my mind to tackle whatever comes next!

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