Time outs are nothing new to parents. There are many, many parenting approaches that advocate using them with your children. But what about parents? Don’t we sometimes need a time out, too?
When a person is fired up and angry, their rational thinking drops. (Perhaps you’ve experienced this yourself, or have noticed it in one of your family members…) Essentially, when our body perceives a threat or is exposed to something that causes anger or anxiety – such as being yelled at, or watching other people fight, or an emergency situation, just to name a few – a process (which you may have heard of, called the “fight or flight” response) gets kicked off, and one of the effects of this response is that blood is redirected in the brain into the “survival” part, from the “rational thinking” part. So, quite literally, we’re not thinking with our best problem solving skills when we’re upset, anxious, or angry. This is why we sometimes do or say things that we look back on with regret after the situation has blown over. So it’s a good idea to take a time out or give yourself a cooling off period before it gets to that point. (Here’s another article on anger in parenting and how to avoid it.)
Let your kids know ahead of time that this is your new plan. You might say, “Sometimes when I get upset, I need to take a time out myself so that I can feel better and then we can figure out what to do or how to solve the problem together.” It’s a great example to set for your children about how to manage one’s own anger, anxiety, or feeling of being overwhelmed.
This is where the bathroom comes in. As it may very well be the only room in your house with a lock, it’s a great place to escape to for a few minutes so that you can catch your breath, take a short break, and cool off a bit. Darting into the bathroom to get a few minutes to collect yourself is sometimes called the bathroom technique. (Rudolph Dreikurs, the noted psychiatrist and parent educator, coined this term when he described time outs for parents.)
You don’t have to use the bathroom, though. If you have someone else who’s home to watch the kids, you could go for a walk, or escape to the basement or garage, or any other place that allows you to chill out.
Being respectful and clear that you are not leaving to get away from your kids themselves is important. Let them know this is about you taking a break to take care of yourself so that you can make better choices.
What do you do if you don’t have a bathroom to slip away to, such as if you’re in the car? Try carrying a novel with you in your glove compartment, and when you’re feeling like you need a mini break, pull out your book and escape to Wuthering Heights. Or Forks. Or wherever.
This kind of action breaks up the yelling and reacting habits we may have gotten ourselves into. And because it’s done in a non-blaming way, it isn’t shaming for the kids. But it may just jolt them out of their own habits when they see you doing something different. Not just something different, though: something they can learn from and use in their own lives, too.
P.S. Does it go without saying that, of course, your children must be safe if you excuse yourself for a few minutes? I thought it would. Pop a little one in the crib or play yard for a few minutes, turn off anything cooking on the stove, or simply excuse yourself into another room if your children are too little to be left truly alone. If they follow you and cuddle up with you quietly, great. You can still cool off with the little monkey in your arms. And if the fighting follows you, get up and head into another room without saying a word. They’ll get the message.