How To Use Positive Time-Out to Teach Students How to Calm Down and Regain Self-Control

Girl with eyes closed

How often have you either needed a break from a stressful moment or noticed your mind wandering and needed an opportunity to purposefully refocus yourself? What do you do in those moments? Now consider your students. What can they do in your classroom when they experience stress or need an opportunity to refocus? This is where positive time-out comes in.

The goal of positive time-out (known in middle school as “Space and Time”) is to begin practicing self-control while keeping the classroom calm, safe, and orderly. While this logical consequence is considered a reactive strategy, I very often think of it as a proactive strategy. The reason for this is that, when it is taught and modeled early in the school year, students can use positive time-out to calm down and regain their self-control before they misbehave. Here are a few steps you can take to introduce positive time-out in your classroom.

Create the Time-Out Space 

The first step in creating a calm space is to come up with a new name for the space itself. Letting students choose the name of the space gives them ownership over it. Here are some other things you can do to make using the space a positive experience for students:

  • Use a special chair, such as an old farmhouse chair or a padded rocking chair. 
  • Hang pictures of calming scenes near the time-out seat; allow the class to weigh in on what they find calming.
  • Make sure the chair is facing the rest of the class and not too far away from the learning.

Use Interactive Modeling

For students to feel safe using this strategy, you need to purposefully teach the class how to use it. You can use Interactive Modeling to teach students not only how to go to the positive time-out space and what to do when they get there but also how to handle a situation where one of their friends is sent to positive time-out. Model for students how long they should stay in the space (one to two minutes is best). Additionally, you can introduce a signal students can use to communicate to you that they need more time. 

Teach Students What to Do in Time-Out

Now that you have created the positive time-out space and taught students how to use it, here are some strategies students can use to calm down when they are in positive time-out:

  1. Take some deep breaths to clear their mind instead of thinking about what happened that led to the trip to positive time-out.
  2. Stimulate the vagus nerve with guided breathing.
  3. Do a whole body scan.

Make It a Routine

To make calming down in positive time-out a consistent part of your classroom routine throughout the year, look for opportunities to discuss mistakes characters make in stories and books you read in the classroom. For example, stop at a scene in a book where students are being unkind to each other and role-play the scene. This time, send one student to the positive time-out chair. Ask the class what the student could do to regain self-control in positive time-out. Remind them: Everyone makes mistakes. 

When students in your classroom are expressing anger, frustration, or defiance, it is quite easy to get caught up in the problem. However, a few well-placed, purposeful spotlights on positive time-out will go a long way for both you and your students. 

For more on how to introduce positive time-out to your classroom, check out Teaching Self-Discipline.

Gina Castelli is a Responsive Classroom consulting teacher.

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