Many mothers have a hard time with “time out,” and for good reasons. Typically time out is a term used for isolating a child for a set period of time as a punishment for doing wrong, and it can be counterproductive to the discipline process. Expecting children to solve problems alone is unrealistic. Furthermore, the isolation can appear to force children away from the parent’s love.
A “break” is a more valuable technique because it focuses on the heart and teaches children a more accurate picture of reality. When a child takes a break, the separation means missing out. The child is then motivated to repent in order to return to the benefits of family life.
There are two factors that draw our children back to us in repentance. First, when parents reflect sadness instead of anger, they provide an effective motivation for their children to change their hearts. The disappointment seen in a parent’s eyes can be a powerful incentive for a child to want to change. Therefore, when you send your child to take a break, be careful about your anger. Reflect sorrow instead.
A second motivation to return to the parent is the fact that the child is missing out on activities and other privileges. You’ll need to suspend the child’s benefits of family life while he or she is working on the heart. Children learn that they cannot enjoy the benefits of family life without abiding by the principles that make it work.
Let’s say that four-year-old Susan becomes angry at the park and pushes her friend. Mom says, “Susan, that’s not kind. You need to sit here under the tree and take a break.” Because Susan has experienced breaks many times before, she knows what to do. She sits under the tree for a few minutes, then comes back to Mom to discuss the problem. Her motivation to talk to Mom is fueled by the fact that she is missing out on park time. Because separation can motivate repentance, a break is a helpful part of the discipline process, not just simply a consequence.
During a time out, a child serves a sentence for a crime committed. The parent’s role is that of a police officer, to keep that child in time out until the sentence is served. During a break, the parent’s role is similar to that of the prodigal son’s father, who waited with open arms for the child to return. How refreshing that is for us whose children require a lot of discipline. The concept of a break shifts the responsibility from parental control to the child’s repentance. That truth alone makes a break the better approach.
How to Use a Break
1. Quickly begin the break after misbehavior
You might simply say, “Tyler, that was unkind. Take a Break in the doorway here, and come and see me when you’re ready to talk about this.” Or, “Sara, that attitude is not helpful. You need to take a Break on that blue chair until you settle down and are ready to talk with me.”
2. Stay calm
A parent’s emotions can turn a discipline time into a volatile argument. It’s important for you to remain calm and matter-of-fact as you progress through the process. This allows the child to focus on the offense instead of on parental anger.
3. Choose an appropriate break location
The best location for a break is a place away from any activity or stimulation. The bottom step, the hallway floor, or a chair in a quiet room might be appropriate. The child’s room, full of toys, may not be helpful. It’s best to choose a boring place where a child can think and is then motivated to return to the parent.
4. Ignore protests, excuses and tantrums
Some children resist taking a break and taunt parents into a battle. An angry child wants company and pushes a parent’s buttons to invite the parent into a fight. Ignore the tantrum and simply say, “We’ll talk about it after you take a break.”
A break is an effective tool to motivate heart change in a child. It usually takes some time to develop this routine, but do the hard work, and you’ll use it regularly for years to come. Furthermore, your child will grow up learning the value of settling down and making heart-level changes. You may not see significant improvement right away, but keep at it, and over time your child will grow into a person who is able to make a mature response to correction.