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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rethinking the timeout chair

I never thought I’d be saying this, but one of the best parenting tools I use is the timeout chair.

I had read a lot about timeouts in the quest to reign in my emotionally volatile daughter. But I had never been able to effectively use it with Miss. In fact, trying to get her to sit there escalated the emotion instead of getting it under control.

Besides the idea of the timeout chair evokes visions of children sitting in corners with dunce caps on their heads. Not my idea of positive parenting. So imagine my astonishment when I discovered putting myself in the timeout chair made me a better parent.

I don’t recall much about the first time I used the timeout chair for myself. Probably my memory is blank because I was screaming mad at something I discovered Son had done.  (Egging houses perhaps?) I just know I was boiling over. Ready to throw the book at him. No consequence felt large enough to equal my wrath.  You know that feeling, right?

Somewhere inside, a small voice told me grounding him forever was not rational. Just walk away before you do something you regret. So I went into the kitchen, sat on a stool and gave myself a chance to think.

While I sat there I realized something powerful. A game changer:
  • I do not have to react. I can give myself time to think. 
  • I have the right to allow myself time to process. Time to process is the key to staying calm.
  • A consequence that I assign 15 minutes later is still an effective consequence.
  • In fact, I learned that when I move past my anger and think things through, I assign a fair consequence that I can live with. No more backing down because I overreacted.
  • Bonus. I’m a good model for my children on managing my anger.

Do I make my children sit in the timeout chair now that I’ve found it works for me? I don’t. I narrate what I’m doing and expect them to verbalize their feelings in return. (“I’m so angry I can’t think. I’m going to the timeout chair. While I’m in timeout I don’t want you to talk to me.” Etc.) 

My current goal is giving them space to calm down when they get angry and tell me they need space. After all, if I’m allowed to calm down before I react, they should be able to calm down before they face the music, right?