3 Reasons I Don’t Use Time Out

Image via Katie Hurley

My daughter recently shared a conversation she had with a friend. Her friend wanted to know how often my daughter is in “time out” or is “grounded.” She admitted that she was confused by the question, as it's not a topic that comes up in her peer group often. I asked her how she responded. “I said my mommy doesn't do those things. She just talks to us about feelings and what else to do.”

I sometimes wonder how my kids interpret my life lessons and how they feel about how I guide them through the hard moments.

The truth is that time out, taking things away or sending them off to their rooms just never felt right for my kids.

They are sensitive little ones, and I've always thought that teaching them to cope with their feelings and guiding them through the stress and frustration made more sense. But that's my kids, and all kids are different.

After a brief pause, she shared that she's grateful that I don't use time outs because she doesn't like to be alone when she feels upset. The truth is…neither do I.

I believe in parenting the individual – getting to know and understand what makes each child tick. For my kids, separation during times of stress only fuels the emotional reaction where comfort and empathy help them through the stress. But hearing my daughter talk about her friend caused me to pause and consider why I've never really considered time outs as an option around here.

blanket fort
Image via Flickr/ David Sprankle

Never cry alone:

We have a “never cry alone” policy around here. When you're sad, frustrated or just generally upset, your loved ones can provide comfort and empathy. We can't necessarily fix the problems that lead to big feelings, but we can lend support and show our love. I've seen my daughter comfort my son when he's frustrated and my son comfort me when I appear stressed. We read each other's emotions and help in small ways just by being there.

Try this, instead:

Some call it “time in”, but we call it a “relaxation break”. When we get overwhelmed in this house, we provide support and empathy, and then we cuddle up and read together.

Reading to decompress started when they were toddlers. I distinctly remember one of those days when they seemed to take turns crying and in a moment of desperation I built a fort and filled it with board books. We hunkered down and read and laughed until the stress disappeared. To this day, we build a cozy spot, fill it with books and magazines and read our troubles away.

{ MORE: Do You Let Your Kids Wear What They Want to Wear? }

kid meditating
Image via Flickr/ Mike Tidd

Coping skills matter:


I want my kids to understand how their feelings play out and what they can do to cope with those big feelings. Kids aren't born with a coping toolbox; we have to help them build one. If we teach them how to cope and how to problem solve, we empower them to work through feelings of anger, frustration and sadness as they grow.

Try this, instead:

Work on feelings identification on a daily basis. Teach your kids to draw connections between how they feel in response to triggers and how to act as a result. During calm moments, practice alternative responses to common triggers. Teach relaxation strategies like deep breathing, visualization or even blowing bubbles.

Image via Flickr/ Aaron Fulkerson

All kids are different:

All kids are different and all kids experience stress in different ways. While it's nice to have a set of expectations in the house, we have to meet kids where they are if we want to help them thrive. That means dealing with obstacles in a way that works for each individual child.

Try this, instead:

Watch for clues to establish patters and figure out what helps calm each child. Singing and cuddling might help one while another needs a physical release of stress like jumping jacks or swinging. When parents keep their own stress in check during heated moments and focus on finding the best way to help each child, the child learns coping skills that will last a lifetime.

All families are different. What works for mine might not work for yours, but opening up about the difficult parts of parenting and sharing strategies can only help us along the way.

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3 Reasons I Don’t Use Time Out

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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