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“time-outs,” not just for kids!

Posted by on Jan 24, 2013 in Blog Posts | 4 comments

In writing a client summary for the mother of a six year-old selective eater today, I wrote this. (Note this post is about dealing with behavior, not what or how much the child is eating and is a brief bit in a 2-3 page email…)

Rest at the sunset

“Here is what you can say when your son pitches a fit at the table: “I’m sorry you’re sad that we’re not having noodles, there are other options and this is what is for dinner. You are spoiling dinner. Please go to your room (timeout, whatever) until you are ready to come back to the table and be pleasant.”

He may need a little help calming down if that is the case in general. Don’t be afraid to take your own time-outs. I’ve done it. Calmly say, “Mommy needs a time-out, I’ll come back to the table when I can be pleasant.”


I haven’t had to do this for a long time, we’ve been at this for more than half a decade, but I’m so glad that when I couldn’t be rational or pleasant at the table, I had permission to walk away, and I could come back more calm. Taking that breather helped. When you feel yourself getting pulled into the drama, the negotiating, the— let’s face it—screaming… take a time-out. Breathe, cry, go back to the table. (Many mothers described feeling trapped in the cycle of shouting, pressuring and fighting in the middle of that Worry Cycle. This is one tactic to help break that cycle.)

It also shows your kids you are human, and that the rules apply to you too. What do you think?

*Clearly, if you have young children and you are the only adult present, you can’t physically leave the children with the food etc. Perhaps step away from the table, lean over the sink and take some deep breaths. Also, time-outs may not be appropriate for all children, children from hard places, who have experienced trauma or are working on attachment. Use the discipline, behavior and redirection methods you use with success. Also note, there are at least one or two safe and favored options for the child to eat at each meal and snack.

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  1. Anon

    I’m glad you note that this isn’t helpful for all kids. I was a stubborn kid that didn’t really like eating, and I’m pretty sure if I’d been told to leave the table and come back when I could be pleasant, I just wouldn’t come back. Not the end of the world, but not especially helpful either.

    • katja

      Yes, different approaches work for different kids. I also find that lots of kids who don’t want to be at the table don’t want to be there because 95% of the energy is directed/focused on getting them to eat more or different foods. Often, once the pressure is off, everyone in the family can enjoy being at the table far more.

  2. Nebet

    I really like how this frames a “time out” as a tool rather than a punishment.

  3. Twistie

    I absolutely agree this is a great idea in any situation where it is both appropriate and physically possible. It helps defuse things, and yes, it does remind children that parents are both human and required to follow certain rules just as much as they are.

    I always liked my mother’s take on time outs (which she used in the 60’s, long before they were a standard model of parental discipline). She always said: :”You can’t argue with a clock” as she set her warring youngsters back to back at opposite ends of the room with an alarm clock between them.

    And yes, I do remember once or twice when she announced that she was going to her room for x number of minutes because she needed to get herself together. Boy did we straighten up and fly right, then! We didn’t want to break Mommy. It really did defuse a couple rage/frustration loops over the years.

    So while I don’t recall it ever happening at the dinner table, I do think it was an effective part of her parenting strategy.