“Time out” is a popular discipline for young children, but instead of providing the child with a break it is a punishment. It may eventually produce the desired result: a more obedient, calmer child. But when used as a punishment, “time out” does nothing to help the child stave off future tantrums. Introducing the tenets of mindfulness as part of “time out” can actually help children learn to cope with overwhelming emotions in positive ways. 

If you haven’t yet started using time out or have only done it a few times, you may simply need to change your approach. If you have used time out for awhile or your child resists going to time out, you may need to use a different name. A few suggestions include: calm time, breathe time, me time. Talk to your child about what it means to take “me time” during a calm moment, then remind them to take that time as they start to get frustrated, excited, or upset. 

It’s important to remember that there is no one size fits all approach. It’s not fair to expect young children to calm down from sitting still. Children learn through movement and sensory experiences. Sitting still takes a lot of discipline and self-control that has to be learned and practice. Instead of setting your child up to fail, provide them with something that can calmly focus their attention.

A few ideas include:

  • Old bottles can be filled with colored liquid, glitter, ribbons, etc. Encourage your child to shake the bottle as much as they are angry, frustrated, excited, etc. When they stop shaking it, ask them to watch the items settle or calm first. After everything has settled, they can repeat it until they feel as calm as the settled glitter.
  • Make homemade playdough and add lavender oil or seeds. Encourage them to squeeze and knead their feelings into the dough. Talk to them about how they are going to squish the big feelings right through their hands into the dough.
  • Designate a stuffed animal, blanket, or another comfort object as their calming buddy. Talk about how the calming buddy’s only job is to help them calm down. Children can tell their buddy why they are upset, give a hug as big as their feelings, or just sit and snuggle.

The key in any new calming technique is to talk about before they need it and be consistent. Encourage them to practice calming down by pretending to be angry, excited, or sad. Teaching your children how to calm themselves down will help them cultivate emotional resilience and well-being.