When Time Out Doesn’t Work

Same rules as before. Please comment. Ask questions. Disagree. But be kind. Always be kind.

Last week when we were chatting about discipline, I was emailed a question. “Since you took spanking off the table in your home, did you replace it with Time Out?”

Well, Yes and No. When we keep in mind that discipline is the opportunity to learn how to govern, placing children in arbitrary Time Out just to punish them, does little long term good. We must (as discipline providers–go ahead, put that on your resume) keep in mind our motive. Why are we dispensing discipline?

Here are just a few responses I’ve heard and some I’ve thought… because the world is hard and they need to be tough… because everyone has to pay for their mistakes…. because I must even the score…. because If I spare the rod, my child will be spoiled….because it’s expected of me…. because I love my child…because they must learn justice.**

Take a bit of time today and ask yourself why you discipline your children. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your thinking and show you the truth of your heart. There are lots of reasons why parents choose to discipline, and thinking about why we do this will help us use it with wisdom and compassion. In addition we can take our motives (we usually have more than one) and check them with the motives of Jesus. Luke is 24 chapters, read one a day with the questions in mind, “Why is Jesus doing this?” “What is his motive?” Luke. specifically, gives us the most stories with children.

When I used Time Out in the same manner I was using spanking, by harnessing fear to manipulate, I got the same crappy results. I may have compliance when I’m present, but all out Lord of the Flies in my absence. Fear works best if the “enforcer” is present.  I want my children to be able to govern themselves whether I’m present or not.

However, Time Out can be used as a wonderful space for solitude and silence.  When I turned the Time Out space into a Sacred Space everything changed. In our Sacred Space we placed a battery powered lantern, a few reflective children’s books*, paper and crayons. We housed these things in a Sponge Bob, Square Pants tent we found at a yard sale.  The “rule” went something like this. When a child was fighting with a sibling I said, “I think you might need some Tent time?” Or When a child was having a melt down, or when I was having one, “Tent time?”

We weren’t kicking them out of the family for their behavior instead we were inviting them into a space with God, where the Spirit could do what the Spirit does best, comfort and convict. I will say I think it helped that I modeled what this could look like. If I needed a break I went to the Tent. When I came out and joined the family, sometimes I offered apologies other times I returned with a better disposition. The kids followed suit.

After only a few weeks the children were initiating their Tent time. They began to go on their own when they knew they were struggling, it continues to this day. We have switched things out over the years, as the kids have matured. Finally, the SBSP Tent died (Thank God!) and was replaced with a special chair. Prayer beads and a Jesus Journal (a notebook where we write things we need to say to Jesus) have replaced the books and crayons. We especially love to pray with labyrinths.***

A Sacred Time Out Space will not meet all your discipline needs. This is not a one size fits all children, parents, or situations. We remember that these are just tools. Tools to help our children learn to govern themselves and tools to help them lean into their God who loves them very much.


*We really loved these books in our Tent.




**As an aside teaching justice is important. It is very important if we want our children to go out into the world and be advocates of justice, by supporting and loving and speaking for the least of these. Justice, though, can be taught without fear. (That’s for another blog post.)

***We like this one. As we move to the center of the circle we talk to God. As we move outward, we listen.


One thought on “When Time Out Doesn’t Work

  1. Once again, concise and well worded. We have a place called a safe place where our kids have all the stuff you mentioned along with feeling board that helps them know what they are feeling and several different things they can choose from to calm down. I appreciate your courage and gentleness on how you are approaching these subjects.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s