'Time Out Corner' Yes or No?

Time out is always a controversial topic with people all around the world - and not just parents, i'm talking professionals too. And not just in the autism world but with children of all different abilities and needs. 

Let me just start by saying, whether you do or don't use time out, there's no right or wrong, it's all about what suits your parenting style and your child best. So, I've been looking into the topic, talking with parents, carers, professional and we've come up with the following pros and cons of the 'time out corner.'

Ok, so I'm going to start with explaining what I mean with a 'time out corner' because this can mean so many different things to so many people - some might have the idea of sitting their child on the bottom step - this used to be so common, some might have a chair for it, some might have a corner specifically for it and in a lot of people's minds, time out is just to make the child sit there and count then apologise, but it's so different in so many peoples lives so it's important to try think of the best way to use it for both you and the child/student. 

With that in mind, I'm going to discuss some pros/cons first, then I'm going to discuss what I think makes a great 'time out' style session.

  • Time to cool - the area can provide a great opportunity to allow a child to calm down by themselves without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Safe - a lot of the time, children crave a safe space, a large room, especially a classroom can be very overwhelming for our children, so if we can start to notice triggers for behaviours coming, we can direct them to the area to start cooling down before anything takes place. Creating the area into a 'safe' area with items that help them calm can be beneficial.
  • Planned ignoring - in this world you may have heard of planned ignoring a few times, although it doesn't work for everyone, it does work for some children. Some children may do a certain behaviour because they're craving attention - something they may not usually get so end up seeking negative attention or just because they crave more attention than they currently have - don't like sharing attention with a sibling etc - so the planned ignoring and removal to an area away from any attention may make them miss the attention more - wanting them to NOT come back to time out again.
  • No disruption - so we all know how disrupting a behaviour can be in the classroom, especially if you have other children who are easily distracted. By providing an area for the child to go to for their calm down, you are helping to take away the distraction/disruption from everyone else.
  • Visuals - I really recommend using visual timers so the child can see how much time they have left.
  • Sensory - some of your children may find it difficult to sit for a period of time, sometimes even a short period of time in one area or on certain types of chairs, so you could provide a sensory chair or pad for them to sit on so they can cope better.

  • Consistency - are you using the area consistently? Do the same behaviours end up in the time out area or do you just use it now and again? Does the child understand which behaviours end up in 'time out'?
  • Time - is the time consistent when using it? Or do you make it up for different behaviours? 
  • It doesn't work - you know what, like everything in life, one behaviour prevention isn't going to work for every child. If you're having to physically block a child from leaving time out then it's not really working. Granted, the first few times you may have to encourage your child(ren) to stay in the area but you shouldn't be having to dot his continuously. 
  • Straight away - some behaviours may result in a straight time out and this can be upsetting for a child, especially if they didn't realise the consequences of their actions. This is mainly for smaller behaviours - talking over you or not listening to you and ending up straight in time out can be stressful for a child and you'll have to consider if it was worth it.
  • Negative - this is something I hear a lot - time out is a negative way to help a negative behaviour. This can be true but only if it's done in that way. There's lots of things you can put in the 'time out/cool down' area that can help provide a more positive effect on the child. Once the child is out of time out - don't continue on about the behaviour, let the child start again, if they were there because of a behaviour when playing with a certain item, use directed choice and direct them to another choice area - they're still being involved but they're not going back to what they had.
  • Escape - So, now you have this lovely area set up that some children like it so much they purposely try to go out of their way to go there instead of doing something like work. 
  • Understanding - Does the child know why they are there? Do they understand what behaviour has resulted them being there?

Fixing the Cons
Ok, so even though there are some cons, the cons can actually be fixed quite easily. 

Consistency - you just need to become more consistent. For example (these are just examples and not set for you to use) biting - is a clear time out, refusing to share - encouragement and visuals. You can also have a visual for the behaviours to show that these result in time outs. 
Time - make a plan, you can have 3 separate timers in the time out area with different behaviours/reasons resulting in different amounts of time. For example - 1 minute = the need to calm down where the child is getting worked up, 3 minutes = verbal aggression, 5 minutes = physical aggression. Again these are just examples.
It doesn't work - that's ok. Find something that does work. You could still have an area for cooling down, you could introduce more physical measures such as 'brain breaks' and having the child complete different physical activities to try help them, or one of our favourites is the 'push wall' - we have two hands printed and stuck onto the wall, if a child is getting worked up they can push against the wall - some like having staff do it with them and making theatrical noises too! It can really help to break down some barriers with children and help them start to cool down.
Straight away - ok, so granted, some behaviours are going to result in a STRAIGHT time out, for example physically hurting someone, you're not going to allow them 3 strikes and then to time out. But if your child isn't listening to you, is refusing to share etc, I would look into a 3 strikes sort of policy - 1 quiet warning, 2 quiet warning, 3 time out. You can have these made into a visual so the child can actually see how many strikes they've had. You can make these strikes as short/long as possible as every child is going to be different. The strikes can last one lesson, one hour or one morning etc.
Negative - It can be seen as a negative but it can also be made into a positive. You can talk/communicate with the child at the end of their time out/cool down on how they can be really good, and if you can help them. There's lots of ways you can make it positive to send the child off on a better note.
Escape - I would try ro provide another area in the room for 'fun/rewards' which children get to go to when they've done something really good. This is also a nice positive reinforcement to give children the encouragement to do something good to be able to go to this area. It could be something as simple has the children putting their faces onto a gold star, and at the end of the lesson/day everyone on a gold star gets a treat - this could be something like getting to sit by their friend for a session, playing with special toys - they don't have to be rewards like sweets etc. 
Understanding - Many of our children find it easier to understand what we are 'saying' when we visually shown them rather than talking to them. Many studies show that when we talk and explain, especially in long sentences, our children might only be able to pick out key words because they're overwhelmed and can't cope with the full sentences, so use shorter sentences/just key words and try to use visuals so you can help them understand why they are there and what they can do instead next time - social stories can be great for this.

What makes a good time out?

Granted, you're not going to use a time out if the child in question has been excellent behaved, so it's only natural that the time out is used as consequence but it can also be used as a preventative before a behaviour happens - which is especially common in many of our children as we can sometimes see some signs of a meltdown or behaviour about to show an appearance.

So, I would really recommend, if you can, having a set 'time out corner' - but you can call it anything you want - 'cool down corner' 'thinking area' 'chill out zone' - you can even include your child(ren) in the name and let them think of something cool to call it - because it's not going to be just an area for reflection of big behaviours.

Now, fill it with some items that you know can help your child(ren) cool down - this can be stress balls, mirrors - some children get quite shocked when they can see themselves acting a certain way - sensory toys that may help, visuals - first, then symbols, breathing exercise flashcards, a social story about behaviours - especially a targeted one if there's often a lot of the same behaviour. 

One of the best parts about this place is if you can make it away from everyone else. Sometimes behaviours may take place for attention but they also may take place by feeling overwhelmed, with too many people in the room, too many people watching them or around them. If this area is made more private and away, it will allow the child to calm down in a private space with no watching eyes.

What do you think about time out/cool down areas? How does yours work? How is it set up? What behaviours end up in time out? We'd love to hear from you!

All the information in this blog was discussed between parents, carers and professionals who have shared their views and thoughts. Please remember, whatever you do, you are doing your best for your child. 

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