The Need for Quiet Versus Time-Out

In my last blog, I mentioned that one of the tools we use in our home is quiet practice. Some of you might be thinking, “What, exactly is quiet practice, and is this simply a fancy word for a time-out?” I’m so glad you asked!

What I refer to as a quiet practice in my house can look very similar to the classic “time-out” often used as a discipline in some homes. There are key differences between the two, so let me clarify.

The purpose of a quiet practice is to give our kids space for a “reset.” This means the child takes deep breaths, calms down, and turns on their brain’s relational circuits. While quiet practice can be used as a “consequence” for misbehavior, the purposeful pause is more about stopping in the midst of a problem situation and taking a moment to reset back to peace. There are times this may feel like a consequence to my sons, but it is a consequence with a purpose. The other point to highlight here is that my sons are permitted to have this reset in proximity to me, so I am around—though not necessarily in the same room as my son—when he is in quiet time.

So how is this different from the standard “time-out” that is often employed when our children are misbehaving or in need of a consequence? Time-out is a discipline or consequence where children are often sent somewhere to be alone, and the result is often that they stew about what made them angry. Time-out tends to be for a set amount of time, and usually, children are still equally (or more) upset and offline (nonrelational) by the time they finish. Well-intentioned parents often utilize time-outs simply because this is what our parents did for us to bring correction to unwanted behaviors and actions.

When Chris and I first started implementing the quiet practice in our home, our sons were 3 and 5 years old. We were visiting Jim and Kitty Wilder at the time. I was frustrated during this season because I was running out of things to “take away” when my children were not listening to me or were being unkind to each other or to other people. Jim shared that he observed what we were needing in most of these situations was for my sons to quiet themselves, which would result in better behavior, better listening, and much more peace. I can honestly say I was and continue to be profoundly grateful for this suggestion! This addition changed the course of my parenting, and it increased the peace in our household!

Before we started using quiet times, I talked to the boys about the goal of this practice. I emphasized we were using quiet times to take deep breaths and calm ourselves down. Obviously, my 5-year-old had a much better understanding of the goal of this exercise than my 3-year-old. The first few times we tried the quieting step, it was clear my sons were not happy. However, after some practice, both began to get the hang of the process, and they could begin quieting themselves in a few minutes—even when they were upset or angry about the opportunity to do so. There were a few times I noticed they were too upset, so I offered to join in for a shared quiet together time. When this happened, I would sit with my son and hold him while he calmed himself down. Over time, these quiet together moments became less and less necessary.

The key to using quiet practice is this: Once you teach your children the skill of quieting through mutual regulation practice, this quieting time becomes an opportunity to quiet on their own. As my sons have grown older and started to understand more about managing their own emotions and keeping their relational circuits on, we have talked about the purpose of this time as a way to have the space they need to get back into a relational mode and calm down from their upset, hyperactivity, or even disobedience. If my sons had not learned to quiet on their own, this “quiet time” practice would basically have turned into a time-out.

The interesting thing about taking space to quiet is how it can be applicable in nearly any situation. You are mad at your brother? Take some time to quiet yourself. You are jumping around the room in a frenzy of hyperactivity? Take time to quiet. You are arguing with Mommy because you don’t want to do what I asked you to do? Take time to quiet yourself. You just broke something because you weren’t paying attention? Take time to quiet. You are mad that you can’t have what you want? Take time to quiet yourself. We still validate and comfort our children in their upset, however, quiet is the step where the reset happens.

The other rule we have regarding quiet practice is this. The faster you go to quiet and return to peace, the faster you can be done. If you argue about going to quiet practice? It is longer. If you become really upset because you have to go to quiet? It will take you longer to calm. If you go straight to a quiet space and calm yourself quickly, you can be done quickly. This has intrinsic motivation for children to use the quieting skill for themselves. It also reduces resentment because, ultimately, child maturity is the stage of life where children learn to take care of themselves, so they are learning this self-care step is their responsibility. We are helping our children to grow important skills.

The other benefit of this process is it also allows me some space to reset my brain back to relational mode and gain a bit of peace in case I am still unsettled or upset about something in the situation. This is a blessed window of time for everyone to pause, settle into relational mode, then repair or continue the conversation once the quiet time comes to an end. The outcome of returning to relational mode is more flexibility, a better understanding of one another’s mind, and more engagement of the brain’s executive functions—which proves to be more satisfying for all of us.

While we often allow our sons to take their quiet time in proximity to where we are so they are not simply sent away to stew in their feelings, we do have an exception. There are times when one of my sons will be so upset after I ask him to take a quiet moment that his upset becomes bigger, and he will start yelling or even wailing. In these moments I will remind him that he is welcome to cry, but if he is going to scream and hurt the eardrums of those around him, he will have to go to his room until he can turn down the noise. There have been times he needed to go to his room because he continued to wail and scream, and there have been other times when he was able to turn it down to a softer crying and remain in the room. Our goal here is to instill in our sons that they are responsible for their emotions and reactions.

I have found this resource to be very helpful for restoring peace, and it provides the opportunity for children to regain their footing to relational mode.

I am so thankful to be able to share our journey with you. As parents, we can always benefit from others’ examples and creativity in applying the relational skills in our homes. What about you? Have you tried teaching your child to quiet? Do you notice a difference between time out as a consequence and learning to quiet as training time? How does it change the way you, as the parent, think? How does it change the way your child responds? What ways have you found to train quieting at home? I would love to hear from you!


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Comments 12

  1. GIllian
    August 15, 2019

    Jenn your blogs are excellent, I look forward to them, always read them and always get a lot out of them. Thank you so much 😊

    1. Jen Coursey
      August 15, 2019

      Thank you Gillian for the encouragement!

  2. Wendy Albrecht Kembel
    August 16, 2019

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you, Jen. I treasure your writings. Also, I loved group dancing at Thrive!

    1. Jen Coursey
      August 17, 2019

      Thank you Wendy and the group dancing at Thrive is one of the highlights for me as well!

  3. Carol
    August 19, 2019

    Jen thank you for sharing this information. I’m going to try it out on my grandchildren. This just might be the answer to some frustrating moments!

    1. Jen Coursey
      August 23, 2019

      Glad to hear you have a new tool with the grandkids. 🙂

  4. Doug Kellenberger
    August 22, 2019

    That is a very helpful explanation! I will use it with grandkids. Thanks, Jen!

    1. Jen Coursey
      August 23, 2019

      I am glad it was helpful. 🙂

  5. Kristy Harrang
    August 22, 2019

    Jen, this is so good! I had a huge revelation this year regarding quieting. I was learning about the different brain levels and what the need is at each level. With our son we would try to validate and comfort, but I finally realized he was stuck at level 2. What he needed was quieting. Most of the time this required not being overly responsive to his outbursts and kindly giving him some space to cool off. Giving him space enabled him to calm down so then we could then move forward. But we have seen a ton of growth with him this year, so much so that recently he began to let me quiet with him. Before he couldn’t even be touched, so he would typically need to quiet on his own. Now he will sit with me, or hold my hand, and we will quiet together. It has been so powerful!

    1. Jen Coursey
      August 23, 2019

      That is great testimony Kristy! You are right, words don’t help with level 2 and quiet is just what is needed. I am glad to hear you have seen such improvements this year. 🙂

  6. Laura Matula
    August 28, 2019

    I’ve been doing something similar with my 5 children since I’ve been learning all things Jim Wilder over the past two years. One question I have is this… what about the child who is happy to *stay* in a quiet space and reluctant to return to family life after (and the activity and noise and responsibilities that go with it)? My three older children are quite content to stay on their beds reading or playing quietly, rather than come back and deal with whatever situation upset them in the first place. How would you suggest I handle this?

    1. Jen Coursey
      September 5, 2019

      Laura, that is a good question and it sounds like you have been doing a great job!
      It sounds like you have some low energy responders who value their quiet time, which is a good thing. The challenge is how to motivate them to reengage after the need for quiet.
      You may want to consider making them a little less comfortable in their quiet times. When my boys go to take a time of quiet they know the goal is to take deep breaths, regroup and get back into relational mode. They are not allowed to read or play until they have accomplished these steps and then reengaged with the family (and often repaired).
      After they have reengaged and repaired, if they do not have another responsibility they need to do (like getting ready to go out the door for school) they are welcome to go back to a quiet space to read or play.
      You also may need to help the kids feel satisfied in their engagement. For instance, you may want to review with them how it felt to reengage with the family and find what feels good about this.
      I would love to hear how it turns out and if you come up with other ways to help them desire to reengage in family life.

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