Is Time Out Really Helpful?

Is Time Out Really Helpful? by A Word On Third

So, after you've set your class rules, what do you do next? In the third post of the Launch Your Classroom Right series, I'm going to show you how to use time out so you can implement logical consequences when students need to rethink their behavior.


Actually, that's only true half of the time. If you associate time out with dunce caps, sitting in the corner facing the wall, yelling, or other negative emotions... yes. I will agree 100% with you that time out is mean and terrible and stinky! That does not help your students. It only shames them into behaving obediently for fear of embarrassment, anger, or something else unpleasant.

Time out is VERY helpful when you use it correctly!!

Time out is something all adults need sometimes! It is supposed to be exactly what it sounds like... some time out to regroup. When you think about how overwhelming life can get, that should sound nice, right? Well, it is! And it should be for kids. So I'm going to show you how to use time out positively in your classroom. Positive time out is a logical consequence that lets kids reflect on self-monitor. It's a skill we must teach our children, and it happens to benefit us greatly.

1. Introduce the idea of time out.
I'm guessing that almost all of your students have some previous negative experiences with time out. Talk about it. What does time out make them think or feel? Has anyone ever been upset in time out before? Was it embarrassing or aggravating? Any personal stories you can share about this are important. Tell the kids that there are going to be times when everyone breaks the rules that you made together, even though they are very important. Let's be real... we have all broken rules before. If you ask the kids if they've broken the rules, they should all be raising their hands, and you should too.

Next, tell the kids you will be having time out in your classroom, but it's going to be very different than what they are used to. When a child goes to time out, it is not a punishment. I tell the kids that time out is a tool to help you calm down and regain self-control. I like to call it something different than time out (I've called it "Take a Break" in the past, and I'll refer to it as such in the rest of this post), and I like to have the class vote on the name.

2. Model time out through interactive modeling.

Interactive modeling, which I talked about in detail in this post, is going to be your best friend. I model time out for my students, and it makes a huge difference in how they see it. Here is a video of someone else modeling how to take a break which can be found on Responsive Classroom's YouTube channel.

Now, as I've always said, you should model time out exactly as you want the children to do it. I actually model taking a break in a different way than I model everything else. First, I do a normal interactive modeling of taking a break. Next, I model how I think when I take a break. I put a "microphone" up to my brain (which is just my finger) and I think aloud what I'm feeling. It's really important to show kids that this is about calming down, not necessarily reflecting on choices or behaviors. It's natural that the two may overlap, but they might not. Finally, I model it quickly one more time without thinking aloud--because the last thing you need is to have a bunch of kids narrating their time out sessions! Ha!

3. Give students a chance to practice.
Interactive modeling requires all students to practice anyway, but I like to have kids practicing one or two at a time. That way, I can see exactly what they do well with and what they still need to work on, and I can give them immediate coaching.

Some important things to remember when asking kids to take a break:

  • Taking a break is for ALL STUDENTS, not just "trouble makers."
  • Ask students to take a break in a calm, respectful, and matter of fact tone.
  • Wait for follow-through. If you ask a child to take a break and he/she stays put, your job is to redirect them and wait until they do.
  • Sometimes two kids might need to take a break at the same time. For that reason, I like to have two chairs designated for ONLY taking a break (so these chairs are always empty when nobody is taking a break)! I place them in a location that is involved in the room yet away from distractions. Don't put this right next to the pattern blocks.
  • If three or more students need to take a break, you can always ask a student to take a break and specify the location they should use. (Ex: if you are at the whole-class meeting area, you might say, "Take a break at your desk.")
  • Teach other students what their job is if a classmate is taking a break. Remind them to be respectful and give them privacy so they can calm down.
  • Re-model taking a break often--and tell the kids sometimes you will ask them to take a break just for practice! Re-model the deep breaths, the closed eyes (to block out distractions), etc.
  • Remember, time out is one example of a logical consequence when rules are broken. It won't work for every child in every situation. It's best to use this at the very onset of misbehavior rather than waiting for it to evolve into something bigger.
You can learn more about time out here. What are your experiences with time out? Do you use it in your classroom? What does your class call it? How might you change your time out procedure? Comment below!

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