Feature Archive

Positive Time-Out

Reflection Time

WebMD Feature

March 27, 2000 (San Francisco) -- While some discipline experts have rejected the idea of time-outs, Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Time-Out, suggests modifying time-outs to make them a comforting experience. Children under 3 years old should not be placed in any kind of time-out, she says, but older children can have what she calls "positive time-outs." This means a child, often accompanied by her parent, goes to a "feel-good" place to calm down before trying to learn from the conflict.

Have the child create the time-out place, stock it with stuffed animals and books, and call it by a name: the quiet-time spot or Hawaii. "Many people object that positive time-out is a reward for misbehavior," says Nelsen. "But a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. The most effective way to deal with misbehavior is to help children feel encouraged so their motive for misbehaving is removed."

She suggests this approach: "Would it help you to go to your feel-good place now? Would you like me to go with you?" If the child says, no, the parent answers, "Fine, I think I'll go myself."

Parents can model the value of a positive time-out, particularly with older children. Nelsen gives this example: Barbara's 9-year-old son had come home late and Barbara had been worried sick. When Rick appeared, she realized anger had the upper hand. She said, "Rick, I'm glad you're okay -- I've been worried. But right now I'm so upset that I need to take time out to calm down before we discuss what has happened."

Jane Meredith Adams has been a staff writer for The Boston Globe and has written for numerous other publications. She is based in San Francisco.