The related ideas of ‘time out’ and ‘quiet time’ are often used to help deal with difficult situations with children.
However, some caution is required if misuse is to be avoided.
What are quiet time and time out?
These techniques are usually applied to help children learn to control and self-discipline. They’re not usually recommended for use with kids under 3-4 or over 8-10.
Quiet time is often used to try and calm down a child that is perhaps getting too excited by a game or becoming a little too boisterous in their play. The technique usually means asking the child to put down the toy or stop playing the game for a minute or two, while you quietly speak to them and ask them to calm down, explaining why that’s necessary. Once finished, they can resume the game or activity;
Time out differs in that it means the child is removed from the environment and taken into another for a few minutes. This usually applies in situations where the child’s behaviours have been considerably outside your explained acceptable parameters. It was commonly called “the naughty step” in the past.
Why they may be necessary
Just like adults, children are not 100% reasoning logic machines. They’re driven by many impulses and not all of them are desirable in terms of social skills. Younger children need to learn how to identify those and then control them.
The vast majority of parents and care providers would like to help kids develop those skills by explanation, discussion and example. However, on its own that just sometimes isn’t enough and children need to learn that undesirable or anti-social behaviours carry consequences.
There’s usually a very big conceptual difference between quiet time and time out.
Quiet time usually is a way of distracting a child for a few minutes to allow them to calm down and recover their composure and self-control. It’s not necessarily related to bad behaviour.
By contrast, time out is often associated with perhaps a more serious or consistent example of bad behaviour, which is where the consequences component arises.
How to do it
A lot of this should be common sense:
- Quiet time
Simply remove the thing that is causing your child to become over-excited. Ask them to pause their game or put down the toy. Speak to them calmly for just 1-3 minutes about something else but explain why you’ve asked them to break off to calm down.
- Time out
Move your child to an area of your home that you have previously designated the time out area. Explain why you’re asking them to spend a few minutes there and try to ensure that you have previously discussed with them the use of the area.
Then, leave them alone for a few minutes (1-3 should be adequate) to think about what’s happened and to analyse where they went wrong. While they’re there, try to ensure you and others don’t interact with them and they shouldn’t have access to their toys as a distraction.
Here are some top tips:
- always give your child a verbal warning before going for the time out or quiet time;
- never lock a child in the quiet area;
- always fully explain your reasoning;
- the quiet area should always be a normal part of your house. Your child must feel perfectly safe and unafraid of the environment;
- don’t overuse the time out. If you find your child’s behaviour is such that you need to regularly ask them to go to the time out location, it might be advisable to seek professional advice.