Time-outs became popularized by reality shows like Supernanny but I really dislike time-outs! When children are displaying 'challenging' or 'problem' behaviour it is usually because they're feeling overwhelmed and unable to express what they need. Although their behaviour may be hurtful, children actually need you the most when they’re at their worst.

When you are feeling out of control do you want someone to punish you or help you?

During these times children need support and encouragement instead of isolation, and sending children into time-out often sends the message, “You’re a bad child” or gives the impression that the feeling which triggered the behaviour (which is commonly sadness or anger) is a bad emotion that we are not allowed to feel. 

Here are some alternative methods to managing behaviour. 


It is important to take a pre-emptive approach to managing behaviour through positive reinforcement. When we reinforce children’s positive behaviour and make a conscious effort to catch them being good, we’ll see more of this behaviour.

Here are a few examples of behaviours to reinforce and praise
Being Helpful
Playing nicely 
Sharing with others
Listening when asked
Applying effort to something
Being patient 
Speaking kindly

It is also important to positively reinforce your child's emotional regulation skills. Try and catch moments where your child has managed to regulate their emotions and be sure to praise them. Here are a few examples of positive emotional regulation to reinforce and praise

Identifying and describing emotions
Empathizing with others’ feelings
Processing and self regulating emotions
Displaying self-control
Having a positive self image
Asking for help when needed


The majority of the time our brains will be in thinking mode where we are usually in a state of calm and we are able to rationalise. However, when danger is detected your brain will send the energy it normally uses for thinking mode, to kick into instinctual mode instead. 

The Instinctual mode is a healthy and important part of the brain for many reasons, but sometimes the alarm for children's instinctual mode will go off when they are not in any significant danger and is instead triggered by their heightened emotions when they go into 'meltdown mode'. 

This is why, instead of immediately punishing your child with time-out - you must instead offer them a couple of options for how they can proceed - giving them the opportunity to re-engage the 'thinking' part of their brain. It also allows children to regain control.

Include one example that highlights a natural consequence for if their behaviour continues. Also provide one or two alternatives that are safe, respectful and acceptable. Children usually feel bad or guilty when they make a mistake so by communicating natural consequences clearly, you allow your child to see the connection between what they've done and what's happened or could happen as a result.

For example;

" I understand you're feeling angry and it is ok to feel angry but your toys may break if you continue to throw them and it will make you feel sad. -instead shall we work together to try and release our anger in a more helpful way? I love you and have faith in you to handle this"

You’ve probably heard the phrase “strike while the iron is hot,” but when emotions are running high, it’s often better to not strike at all because you will not be able to rationalise with your child when they are in 'meltdown mode'. – it doesn’t matter if your child can speak 5 languages or recite Pie, when they are in meltdown mode it all goes offline! 

By waiting for the “iron” to go cold, you’ll avoid making heated situations any worse, avoiding a power struggle and allowing your child to switch their rational and reasonable part of the brain back on. It also allows you to weigh your response, and allows you to cool down.

So next time your child is having a tantrum make a note of what was said and identify the feeling and trigger. Wait for the iron to go 'cold', show self control (even if the child is trying to provoke you) and say to the child:

"Wait a second. I see we aren’t connecting. Let's both take a moment to try and calm down so we can reconnect"

This takes the blame off of any one person and focuses on the two of you reconnecting. 


One of the best ways to help children cope when they are experiencing heightened emotions is by providing an opportunity for a calm down break and providing them with a variety of coping and calming skills to shift them out of  instinctual mode.

I recommend filling a box with toys, activities and calm down techniques so that when your child is experiencing heightened emotions you can ask them to take a calm down break to help regulate their emotions and use the box as a guided tool. 

There are many things your child can do to help them calm down and regulate their emotions. Look out for my next blog post which will be containing 28 calm down strategies that you can do with children. 

Children can often act out when their boundaries have been invaded or when they are overwhelmed so helping your child to feel safe is so important! Creating a cosy corner or a peaceful place within your home where your child can go to regulate their feelings can make a big difference. It will offer a place for children to relax and recharge - it is also a great place to keep a calm down box too!  

A peaceful corner should be welcoming and inviting to children. It should be somewhere away from distractions and should not be cluttered. It is important to never force a child to spend time in a designated peaceful space. 

This might seem a strange one but trust me, it really is a great distraction technique that can help shift children's moods. We know that children's 'thinking' part of their brain is normally 'offline' when their emotions are heightened. If you ask your child random questions about topics that have nothing to do with the inciting episode, it will force the 'thinking' part of their brain to re-engage and help your child to shift away from the “fight or flight,” response.

So next time your child is in meltdown mode, why not try a few would you rather questions? When it comes to would you rather questions - the more weird the better is my philosophy! Be silly with your questions in order to de-stress a tense situation. Laughter can help us all to reconnect. Here are some examples of some of my favourite would you rather questions to get you started: 

✨Would you rather spend the night in a haunted house or a jungle?

✨Would you rather have to buzz like a bee every time you walk or ribbet like a frog?

✨Would you rather shout bananas every time you sneeze or howl like a wolf every time you yawn?

✨Would you rather wear scuba diving gear every where you go for 2 weeks or a suit of armour?

✨Would you rather live life in a small submarine at the bottom of the ocean or in a small space capsule in outer space?

After a rupture - it is so important that you explore the situation with your child in order to repair and reconnect. One way you can achieve this is by offering your child a 'rewind' card. This is a card where the child can draw a picture of what happened and alternative ways the situation could have been managed. You can find the template for a 'rewind' card in the free resource library. It aims to promote problem solving and will reaffirm to your child that you love them, they can do the right thing, and have an opportunity to try again.



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  • Caroline Elder
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