Time-outs – Why they don’t help, and what to do instead


So you’re over the meltdowns, the toddler tantrums, and the teenage mood swings and would like to find alternatives to punishment and time-out, but are not sure where to turn. You have realised that these approaches don’t work, and are often make things even worse, but are unsure what else to try.

Rest assured, there are other, more compassionate ways of changing behaviours that work even better. Lifelong change can actually be achieved simply by being emotionally present with your child in their distress, and attuning to their needs.

In the past, challenging behaviours were considered “naughty” or “attention seeking”. Well-meaning adults believed that children needed to be controlled in order to “learn” how to behave.

Instead of a time-out, how about a time-in?

Patterns from the Past

It was often considered “normal” to “teach” better behaviour through forms of punishment, such as a time-out room, a naughty corner,  smacking or hitting the child, or withdrawal of privilege. We now know that these strategies of control often have the exact opposite effect to what you are trying to achieve.

Are you looking for alternatives, but are unsure where to go for help? I am an accredited Holistic Counsellor and Psychotherapist, Registered NDIS Provider and Registered Circle of Security Facilitator, offering individual counselling and parenting support sessions. We can talk about whatever is worrying you, and work together to find other, more peaceful ways to meet your parenting goals.

Current Brain Research

Today, brain research has shown us that, rather than punishment and control, children learn better through close relationships and connection. The current view is to offer effective alternatives to time-out for children, based on compassion and understanding. 

This doesn’t mean that past parenting was wrong, simply that we are evolving as humans, and there will always be new research, and new ideas to embrace.

A New Perspective

I offer a new way of seeing behaviours, as your child’s way of trying to communicate. Once you learn to read these signals, life can become so much easier. My aim is to help you to build closer relationships, based on understanding and connection, as the basis for all future relationships throughout life. 

Rather than punishing your child, another, more effective way to address behaviours is to bring your child closer. Isn’t this what you really want to do, anyway? Your inbuilt intuition is telling you they are struggling, but perhaps your past conditioning is confusing you, and you are seeing their behaviour as “bad”.

Sadly, the punishments of former times rarely taught a child anything positive. If anything, they were more likely to result in a power struggle, with no winners. Misunderstanding the carer’s intention, the risk was that children misinterpreted the message, believing that they were bad, that there was something wrong with them. 

The undesired  result was reduced confidence and self esteem, with the risk of the child feeling abandoned and unloved.

Behaviours Are Impulsive

Current brain science recognises these behaviours are impulsive, and happen outside conscious awareness. Your child’s outburst is not planned or thought out and the response needs to acknowledge this. Punishment is meaningless when the child has has no idea what has just happened.

Something has triggered their nervous system, and their response was automatic. Feeling stressed, their thinking brain has gone offline, and they are reacting from much lower , reactive part in their brain. The child needs help in understanding the behaviour, to learn resilience, and how to be with these strong emotions in the future.

Help Through Co-Regulation

They learn this through co-regulation, that is, being with an emotionally regulated adult who is able to stay present with the child and support them through their upset. When they are calm again, this is the time to talk through what happened, and discuss how you might be able to do things differently in the future.

Fortunately times have changed, and today we recognise that those frustrating behaviours usually indicate there is something you child needs. Your child needs you, and your caring presence.

Regulate Yourself First

Consider a parent time out – just taking yourself out of the situation for a moment can help you to feel more connected to your child and tune in to what they might be feeling or needing in the moment. This is unlikely to be wanting you to push them away or shut them in another room.

In parenting sessions, I usually help parents learn how to bring themselves back to “presence” through belly breathing. Slow exhalations can really help you to “breathe out” some of your own stress and tension.

It goes without saying that, if you feel you are about to “lose it”, it is important to make sure child is safe first. None of us will ever be perfect parents all of the time, so don’t beat yourself up.

Effective Strategies – Based on Bruce Perry’s 3R’s

Bruce Perry, a pioneering neuroscientist, offers a simple sequence of intervention. As we all know, trying to reason with someone who is emotionally dysregulated will only increase frustration all round. Nothing you say will get to their thinking brain.

Co-regulation is the key to creating a safe connection with your child, and this sense of safety is the the pathway to the thinking brain.

Bruce Perry’ offers three steps to help your child through their overwhelm. 

1. Regulate – help your child to calm their fight/flight/freeze response

2. Relate – relate to and connect with your child through an attuned and sensitive relationship

3. Reason – then you can reason with your child, supporting  them to reflect on, and learn from, their experience

Your Child is not the Problem

1. Regulate your own emotions first

Before you react, take a moment to get down to their level, breathe and collect your thoughts. Your calm presence will help your child to calm. Recognise that your child is not the problem. They are probably not feeling safe and are reacting to something in their environment. 

They need help to organise their feelings. Ask yourself “what might they need”  and  “what might they be feeling?” . You will generally find they are feeling overwhelmed, and need support to regulate some overwhelming emotions.

Then you can help to regulate their nervous systems through connection, perhaps by:

  • Offering them a hug, 
  • Getting down to their level, 
  • Making eye contact
  • Holding them while they safely express their emotions, 
  • Offer a calm place where they can choose to go if they don’t want a hug, 
  • Draw how they are feeling – colours, shapes, images

2. Relate

Now you can connect to your child with a time-in. This is your chance to show empathy and make an emotional connection, showing that you understand what is happening for them. You might like to say something like:

“Wow, it looks like that is really hard for you”

“You look really frustrated”

“I understand that you would like to (go to the park, watch tv) but right now it is dinner time”

In this way, you child is learning to understand, recognise and name their difficult emotions. As you start to “tune in”  to their needs, your sensitive presence  is saying “I get you”, “I understand how you are feeling”, Your child will feel reassured and safe through your connected presence. 

You can do this through using:

  • Soft tone, 
  • Gentle touch, 
  • Limited language, 
  • Empathy, 
  • Acceptance
  • Eye contact
  • Lowering your voice, make 
  • Making soothing sounds
  • Gentleness
  • Imagine you are talking to a friend

3. Reason

When everyone is calm, then you can talk about what happened, and discuss options for doing things differently next time. Now that their “thinking brain” is back online,  you can support your child to reflect and learn from their experience

Circle of Security Parenting

Many parents have benefitted from doing the Circle of Security Parenting course.

This  program internationally recognised, relationship-based parenting program, offers support for parents who would like to develop their parenting skills. It is designed to help you understand your children’s behaviours and build closer relationships as you learn through experience.

The course is run over 8 weeks, with each class lasting from 1 to 1.5 hours. It is currently available for individuals and couples, with options of either face-to-face or online via zoom, from the privacy and convenience of your own home.

As one happy parent recently commented, “Every parent should do this course”.

The Next Step

If you would like to develop your parenting skills and write a new family story, I offer counselling support for parents to help you through this process. We can work together to define your parenting goals, and create the family life you are looking for.

Rather than labelling or diagnosing your child, I will help you to change behaviours by understanding the meaning behind them. To put is simply, “acting out”, is your child’s way of trying to communicate something. My role is to help you to read the message.

The aim is to help you raise happy healthy children, who are able to realise their potential and find their place in the world.

A PACFA accredited Holistic Counsellor and Psychotherapist, Rosalind is also a Registered NDIS Provider, Circle of Security Facilitator and approved Victims Services Counsellor.

Sessions are available in person at Moruya South Head, and online via zoom.

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South Head, Moruya, NSW
Rosalind Veness Holistic Counselling and Psychotherapy operates on the land of the Yuin Nation. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, and pay respect to the Elders past, present, and emerging. I extend that respect to all First Nations’ Peoples.

Welcome to Country

Rosalind Veness Holistic Counselling and Psychotherapy operates on the land of the Yuin Nation. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, and pay respect to the Elders past, present, and emerging. I extend that respect to all First Nations’ Peoples.
South Head, Moruya, NSW


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