Time-Out Isn't Just for Kids

February 4, 2013 Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

Time-out - that time honored tradition that hasn't been around very long, but used in schools and homes everywhere (though not by everyone) is a blessing in disguise for me.

Bob has been too old for time-out for quite some time. I don't even remember the last time I used it with him or why. But, I do know that it has a very unusual effect when used in a different way.

What is Time-Out Anyway?

Long before SuperNanny made her way into out living rooms and the hearts of frustrated parents everywhere, time-out had been used. The simple idea behind time-out is to give a child time out of their negative behavior and into calm, quiet behavior (read Tips for Parenting a Child with ADHD). Until SuperNanny showed me how to do time-out properly, Bob with his undiagnosed ADHD in pre-school could sit for hours bored out of his mind. Likely and definitely, Bob forgot why he was in time-out.

Time out was Famous to Me

"Famous" was (and still is) what some people call time-out in a sarcastic way, of course. One of those was my father. But, I used it. A lot. With SuperNanny to help me tweak it a bit, it worked. However, as Bob got older, it stopped. It just didn't have the same effect on him. Something had to change in order for it to work again.

Time-Out Works for Parents, Too!

So, I began using it on myself. Yup, time-out isn't just for kids. As parents, especially those of us with children with special needs and/or mental illness, we need time-outs, too. Everyone needs a break. Time to catch our breath, to calm down or to reflect on what's upsetting us about our child's behavior. Or even all three.

I have given myself time-outs in the past. I found that it worked faster to get Bob to change his tune than having time-out for himself. Often after five minutes of going to my room on time-out, Bob would knock on the door and check in on me. "Are you okay, Mom?" And I was. Or if I still needed more time, I'd let him know and he'd quietly walk out.

Time-Out is Back

I gave myself time-out this past weekend as Bob was struggling to complete his homework. The homework horror returned after two full days without his medication. (Note: Bob gets a day off on Saturdays, but I forgot to have him take it Sunday.) I was irritated, but realized that I was getting to the point of yelling. I gave myself time-out with a good book for 10 minutes. That 10 minutes motivated Bob to complete his writing assignment (which he hates) and let me know about it. With a hug and a kiss, I was able to let Bob know that I knew he could do his work. So, Bob felt better and I felt much better knowing that I didn't punish him for his behavior, but gave myself room to breathe.

Lesson Learned - You Bet

After a few times of giving myself time-out over the years, I learned that Bob was compassionate and sweet. He learned that I got frustrated and upset, too. I learned that all he wanted to do as most kids want, is to please their parents and make good choices for themselves. I think Bob also learned that I didn't want to punish him at all. The first time I took a time-out, it shocked Bob (and myself). This past weekend, it reminded him that I'm a human being that also needs a break. Time-out is a beautiful thing.

Parents - have you ever given yourself a time-out? What did you learn?

APA Reference
Zalamar, H. (2013, February 4). Time-Out Isn't Just for Kids, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Heiddi Zalamar, LMHC, MA

February, 11 2013 at 7:34 am

I love the idea of a time-out for parents. One of the best decisions I made was to take a time-out when my son was hospitalized. In advance, I told him that for the first 2 days of a hospitalization, I would not visit him or take his calls while the staff worked to stabilize him. This gave me a chance to catch my breath after the stress and chaos of the episode that led to hospitalization. While it protected me from the verbal abuse he dished out in the first couple of days of hospitalization, it also removed me as a trigger for his anger, which helped his progress. So, in reality, these have been time-outs for both of us--and they help.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 12 2013 at 5:00 pm

Hiya Teri,
Thank you so much for the comment and great job on taking a time-out for yourself. It sounds as if the time-out not only helped you, but it helped your son. It is often hard to see how we parents can trigger and affect our children with our actions. I'm glad that you took that time to breathe and give yourself the space to do so. You did it in a positive way, but letting your son know what was happening and what he should expect. Both those things help children know what is coming and modify their own behavior. Time-outs are beneficial for kids and parents. Keep taking great care of you. The more you do that, the better you can parent your child by giving him a mom who can take a step back. Way to go! Please visit again soon!

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