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Parent Timeout: Why Taking a Break from Your Children Is Important

It’s quiet—too quiet. You peer around the corner into your living room and find your four-year-old making a beautiful mural … on your wall. He knew he was supposed to paint at the table, and yet here he is acting like Banksy. All this, and it’s only 8 a.m.

Tick, tick, Boom! go your emotions.

You love your child’s enthusiasm and creativity but darn it if young children aren’t also challenging, overwhelming and frustrating. You want to scream and yell but is that the right reaction? Your child may need a timeout to learn his lesson, but could you benefit from a timeout too?

What is a mom/dad/parent timeout?

When your child misbehaves or is unable to control their emotions, a timeout gives them a chance to calm down, readjust and think more clearly. When confronted with your own “big” emotions, a parental timeout can allow you to calm down and refocus as well.

“Similar to a child’s timeout, a parental timeout allows separation from the frustrating cause (i.e., your child) and gives you the opportunity to process what happened and come back to the child or situation more clear-headed and in a more loving, supportive manner,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “We’re better parents when we’re able to control our emotions.”

Why is a parent timeout important?

Anger is a common emotion, but angry outbursts are ineffective at changing behavior.

“Scaring a child, is not disciplining a child,” Dr. Fox said. “It oftentimes instills fear in your child, and they can have a difficult time processing what they’ve even done. Worse off, if you yell often, your child may develop aggressive behavior or become desensitized to the yelling. They may even feel insecure and have difficulty learning self-respect.”

With a parental timeout, you’re giving yourself time to diffuse any anger or frustration that may be building up inside. After you’ve calmed down, you’re ready to tackle the situation. It also models to your child how to separate and take a step back when you feel like you’re losing control.

“Yelling should only be used when trying to grab your child’s attention in moments of distress or danger,” Dr. Fox noted. “Like, when your child is about to run into oncoming traffic or about to fall from something.”

So, how do you know if you need a timeout and how do you do it? Dr. Fox shared these four tips.

1. Identify triggers

“Take a look at what triggers your verbal or emotional response to your child,” Dr. Fox said. “Once you can identify them, you can learn how to manage them.”

Some indicators that you’re being triggered:

  • Your heart begins to race
  • You feel anger and/or frustration
  • You’re raising your voice
  • You’re starting to feel out of control
  • You’re crying or visibly emotional
2. Give warnings

When you feel like you’re losing your patience, warn your child about your frustration.

3. Take a break

Let them know that you need a moment, where you’ll be going and that when you come back, you’ll discuss the issue.

“Take a few minutes and remove yourself from the situation or room in order to exercise more control over your emotions,” Dr. Fox. “You can go anywhere quiet. Take a few deep, slow breaths to slow your heart rate and relax any tension from your body.”

Find an activity that is kid-free and allows you to focus on recharging. Listen to music, meditate, talk to someone or find something else calming and soothing.

“For really young children who shouldn’t be left alone, it may mean asking a friend or loved one to step in while you take a moment for yourself,” Dr. Fox said. “Or you could put your little one in their crib or in their room where it’s safe.”

4. Recognize when you’re at fault and apologize

When you’ve calmed down, approach your child and talk through, at their level, what happened. And, if you did lose your temper, be open with your child and apologize.

“Apologize when you lose your temper,” Dr. Fox said. “Although we try to be good and solid parents, we aren’t perfect, and we can own our mistakes and apologize for that. An apology is something even a toddler can understand.”

Bottom line: Timeouts are good for you and your children

Not yelling can take some work—for some a lot of practice. But Dr. Fox said it’s an invaluable lesson for children to learn and recognize what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

“It teaches them self-discipline, limits and acceptable behavior,” he said. “All things they need to become emotionally mature adults.”

The next time you catch your child doing something sneaky or find yourself in another frustrating situation with your child, before you explode, remember talking to your child is a great place to start.

For more parenting advise to help raise your child to be happy and healthy, reach out to your child’s pediatrician or a Banner behaviorial health specialist near you.

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