Timeout, on the Mat!

Are you a parent, teacher, or caregiver that often resorts to putting kids in timeout when they’ve misbehaved? Timeout, the classic disciplinary action also known as social exclusion, has been implemented since the mid 1900’s. It primarily involves sending the misbehaving child to a designated space (a step, a chair facing a wall, a room, etc.) and isolating them there for a certain amount of time in hopes that the affected behavior will be modified.  As studies are beginning to show, this technique does not always yield the results we think. Let’s take a look at both sides: what really happens in timeout?

What you (parent/teacher/caregiver) think is happening:

“If I remove the misbehaving child and isolate them from their fun activities, he/she will feel upset that they are missing out and will learn to associate these negative feelings with the behavior for which they are being punished. As a result, the child does not want to be isolated so he/she will no longer misbehave.”

What is really happening in timeout:

While the above idea makes sense in theory, we have to remember that most children do not have the self-awareness to make this type of connection. Instead, your child’s experience in timeout is much different. When a child is placed in timeout, the last thing they’re doing (or even capable of doing) is reflecting on why they’re here. Instead, your child feels angry and rejected. Isolating a misbehaving child only teaches him/her that when they feel anything less than positive emotions, no one is interested in hearing about them. Remember, your child is still learning how to express negative emotions- simply feeling these emotions is already taxing enough- imagine the frustration of a child who has not yet learned to respond to these types of feelings! The child has not been equipped with tools to healthily express what he/she is feeling, and now the child exits timeout angrier than before with the need to suppress his/her emotions for fear of being rejected.

As Tina Bryson and Daniel Siegel point out in their 2014 Times article, “discipline is about teaching-not about punishment- and finding ways to teach children appropriate behavior is essential for healthy development.” Often when a child is misbehaving, he/she needs guidance on how to handle the situation and emotions moving through the body. This is an intimate part of educating your child and it takes place together in discussion, not in isolation.

As Western culture becomes more interested in natural health, wellness (physical and mental), and mindfulness (specifically in relationships), it becomes necessary to look at and modify what have become societal “norms.” How can we adjust the Social Exclusion (timeout) technique, which has become so mindlessly habitual, so that it facilitates an increase in awareness for the child, equips them with tools to better respond to their emotions, and brings positive growth to the child/caregiver relationship? Enter Yoga- Yoga is an invaluable tool to share between you and your child. Next time your child misbehaves, we invite you to “take it to the mat!” Here’s how:

Step 1: Find a secluded space in your house where you can roll out two yoga mats (beach towels work well too). As Yoga is an all-encompassing practice, this space becomes designated for any Yoga practice, any time.

Step 2: When your child misbehaves, “Take it to the mat!” However, it is vital that you make this a positive experience for him/her. Do NOT make this space a place of punishment or negativity! Yoga is about connecting to the moment and meeting yourself where you are, whatever may be going on, and facilitating a positive shift in doing so. You and your child should feel comfortable practicing Yoga in this space whenever the desire arises, not only when there is a behavior that needs to be addressed.

Step 3: Sit on your mats and take 3 breaths together. Proceed to move into a short Yoga sequence (view here) in which you move the spine in all 6 directions: forward and backward, side to side, and twists in both directions. Remember to breathe before and during each side.  Emotions take place in the body. When we move and breathe our body, we already start to shift the emotions that currently reside there! This makes a Yoga practice therapeutic and effective.

Step 4: End your Yoga practice seated facing each other. Take 3 breaths with your child and open your eyes. Now you are both in a place where you can respond rather than react. Discuss and reflect with your child about what happened. Let them share first, then respond. Remember: just because you are the adult does not mean you are always right. Remove your ego and really listen to your child. What does he/she have to say? Come from a place of non-judgment. Help them find the words to express themselves, and then guide them on how they could respond more positively in the future. This practice will have a positive effect on your relationship with the child, as well as individually.



Give this practice a try! We would love to hear how Yoga is changing the way you and your child interact. Feel free to comment below with your experiences or share this post with other parents/caregivers.





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