Why Parents Sometimes Need a Timeout, Too

Why Parents Sometimes Need a Timeout, Too

Stressed out mom holding two squirmy toddlers and yellingEver had a parental temper tantrum? You know, those times when you exhibit bad behavior, such as yelling, bad language or slamming things around, and need to be disciplined with a parental timeout?

We’ve all had those moments. Sometimes when I was on the verge on losing it with one of my kids, I’d force myself to announce, “I need to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”

Once I’d sequestered myself in the bathroom, I’d sit, breathe deeply until I was calm and then ask myself what was making me so upset. Frequently the answer to that question was some version of attempting to control things I didn’t have power over. I’d remind myself, “You control YOUR thoughts, YOUR feelings, YOUR behavior – not theirs.” Then I’d make a plan for how to best rectify the situation. Doing this allowed me to emerge from my bathroom timeout calmer and ready to try again.

So the next time you’re on the edge of losing it with your kids, see what happens if you take a break, calm yourself and remind yourself of what’s yours to control.

Whether it’s a fussy baby who can’t be consoled, a whining preschooler or an arguing teen that’s testing your patience, here are some safe, simple ways you can cool off and calm down quickly:

Tips for Taking a Parental Timeout

Briefly – and safely – step outside.

Mom holds head in hands while young daughter runs aboutTaking a 15 to 30 second breather on the porch or in the backyard, or even a short walk down the driveway and back again, can offer just enough silence and fresh air to regain a sense of calm within yourself.

(Before stepping away, see that young children are safely secured and make sure they can see you through the window. Announce, “I’m stepping outside for a few seconds – I’ll be right back,” so they don’t become frightened.)

Empty or load the dishwasher or start a cycle of laundry.

Finding a brief, straightforward task to busy yourself with for a few short minutes with is a great tactic to regain your composure. It’s also an effective way to show kids you’re physically too busy to get caught up in their antics.

Brew some coffee or tea.

Even if you only end up taking a few sips, the promise of a warm beverage is a simple act of self-care that can work wonders to soothe your soul.

Turn up the tunes.

This one works especially great in the car when kids are bickering in the backseat, but it can be an effective stress reliever at home, too. Find your favorite station, crank it up a couple notches and sing along to bring your spirits back up.

Grin, bear it and think of how you’ll treat yourself later.

Mom smiles ruefully as her two kids hang on herForce a smile – did you know the simple physical act of smiling can improve your mood? Tell yourself, This, too, shall pass, and think of how you’ll reward yourself later after the kids are in bed. Picture yourself relaxing in a hot bath, catching up on a favorite show or enjoying some ice cream in peace.

Whatever it is, use this visual as your anchor as you work through the day’s parenting challenges and know you’ll eventually get there – and be calmer, happier and readier than ever to face what tomorrow brings!


Jean Holthaus, LMSW, LISW has been providing outpatient therapy services since 1995 when she earned her Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa. She has worked for Pine Rest since 1997. She currently serves as manager of the Telehealth Clinic and the Hastings Clinic and is also a Pine Rest Outpatient Regional Director.

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