Giving Children Time Out…From a Coaching Perspective
by Jennifer Beck
Certified Parent Coach Corvallis, Oregon
When most people think of a coach, the first idea that comes to mind is that of the sports coach, who devises a strategy to enrich each player's strengths and develops their ability to integrate those individual strengths so they can play optimally as a team. The same team spirit is needed in a family. As I coach parents in bravely facing the infinite challenges children present each day, I often think of them as the coach for their children. OK, some days it may feel more like the referee, especially when children are bored and begin to plot 5,000 different ways to get on each other's nerves!
This type of behavior actually turned into a gift that led me to learning about TIME OUT. In the 70's, I was blessed with a strong willed daughter that did not respond to spanking (which is how I was raised in the 50's and 60's) so I searched for another way. After visiting my family doctor and three different counselors explaining how angry and vengeful my child became even if I tapped her fingers for trying to touch a hot stove, one finally said "There is a new method I've read about. It's called TIME OUT."
Since I had tried everything I knew, I was very open as he explained how it works. When a child behaves in a way that does not support their magnificence, you ask the child to go (or take the child by the hand and guide them) to a quiet place to stop what they're doing, calm down, and think. They sit one minute for each year of age (5 minutes for a 5 year old, 3 for a 3 year old). When the time is up, you talk about what they might have done differently. He added a therapeutic twist that all members of the family would begin doing something she loved and talk about how fun it would be to have her join us again.
It took a week of escalated behaviors, including kicking and screaming during the time out, but it was worth the effort and it began to work very well. Sometimes she even went to her "thinking chair" before I asked! My little girl became more civilized, made better choices and we all had more fun!
In my study and practice of the coaching model, over the years I have my own twist to add to the TIME OUT, from a coaching perspective. This is a method I call The 3 Word Key. When we know we've made a mistake, our self-talk is pivotal in learning how to recover gracefully. I like to think of the parent as a combination coach/director giving the child their next line. Imagine that Tom just took a toy from Josh without asking. This is a common scene, rich with opportunity for growth. You will want to ask yourself "How can Tom get what he needs peacefully?" Every upset or complaint is an unmet need (a very useful thing to remember when you or your husband get cranky). The parent's job is to unravel the mystery of what the actual need is, then getting Tom to focus on a question during TIME OUT. It is best to finish the question with the final three words being WHAT HE WANTS. This is important because we can think (at about 500 wpm) much faster than we can talk out loud (usually about 200 wpm), which is how I can be thinking about what I want to say next while listening to you (and also why it doesn't seem like children are listening to us, when they really hear every word). This same effect can cause us to miss things being said because our own mind has the capacity to babble on, especially during an upset or a creative flow.
This is why reflective listening skills are so important. You might want to say to Tom "What do you need, Tom?" He will tell you any number of stories until he gets better at identifying his needs and you will say, "I know you are very upset right now, so it's time to go to your thinking place. I want you to think of a way to ask for the toy so Josh shares happily. How can you ask Josh so he wants to share happily?" Notice those last three words: JOSH SHARES HAPPILY and TO SHARE HAPPILY. They keep Tom focused on WHAT HE WANTS. This is a very powerful way to learn to get needs met. Have Tom repeat the question, or even write it down. Then give him time to think, stating, "I know you have a great brain and you think well. I can't wait to hear the answers you find." Notice again, the last three words of the sentences I used….YOU THINK WELL and ANSWERS YOU FIND. Tom will learn to stop and think during emotionally charged situations. You will be proud of Tom's capacity to be a peacemaker. He will engage more productive parts of his brain than the fight/flight amygdala (often referred to as the reptilian/survival part of the brain in the medical lecture circuit).
So, the next time you or your children need TIME OUT, remember to:
- Stop and think (like when you're frustrated with your spouse—your children learn how to be in relationships from watching you!). Never underestimate your power as their role model.
- Discover what need is not being met (What is needed?).
- Voice your question to get the need met using The 3 Word Key, WHAT YOU WANT (How can I get Tom to enjoy playing quietly?).
- Give your child time to think in their special place.
- Most importantly, notice and mention some of the thoughtful choices your child makes. Reinforcing positive choices creates a ripple effect and you'll notice even more!
It takes time to make The 3 Word Key a habit, however, these changes might just transform your life.
May your days of parenting be filled not only with exciting developmental challenges, but also with much love, light and laughter!
About the author:
Jennifer Beck, a graduate of the Parent Coaching Institute, is a certified parent coach living happily with her husband Tom and two silken cat friends, Maya and Luna in Oregon. She has two grown daughters who think very well indeed. Jennifer can be reached at www.ExceptionalDestiny.com.