Feel Better Time, Place, Toolbox
An Alternative to “Time-Outs”
In the long term it is not effective to upset a child to get them to behave better.
When we use punitive time outs we decrease cooperation, and diminish self-esteem while creating a revenge cycle with no healthy emotional IQ skills learned.
‘Feel Better Place’
Step 1 – Designing the Feel Better Place
When we include our children in the process we increase the likelihood that our children will cooperate and participate more fully. To begin, you as the parent and your child create a designated warm and cozy ‘Feel Better Place’. Depending upon the age of your child, siblings or degree of emotion the place might have to be in the same room as you or on a stair, in a tent set up in the hall, or a fold out tunnel in your playroom. Since the purpose of the ‘Feel Better Place’ is to self-soothe, ask your child what might we put in there? The objective is for the two of you to make this a secure, comforting spot for your child to go to when your child needs to calm down. Young children tend to like enclosed, private spaces. Some ideas include pillows, a favorite blanket, a beanbag chair known for its womb-like comforting and feedback to the body, a stuffed animal to cuddle. Encourage your child to be inventive. I have seen forts made from old cardboard appliance boxes, from sheets and clothespins and from towels on clothesline. Furthermore, make a parent ‘Feel Better Place’, too, is a great way to model the skill you wish your child to imitate and ideally a lovely place for you to go when you (start to) frustrate. Also, when dealing with an angry older child who refuses to go to their ‘Feel Better Place’, (if appropriate) parents can still take the necessary break by going to their own Feel Better Place but, as I joke, not for the same number of minutes you are years old, rather – for the number of minutes your child is years old.
‘Feel Better TOOL Box’
Step 2 – Creating the ‘Feel Better Toolbox’
The making of the toolbox together builds connection – the number one childhood root to adult happiness. I encourage Dads to get involved too, and build together a wood and nail toolbox. The toolbox can then be decorated inside and out with the art supplies such as paint, felt, ribbon, pompoms and jewels. If you are making a wooden box together (or buying one at Michaels) older children enjoy installing a privacy lock. Alternatively a toolbox can be made quite simply from a shoebox, decorated with paper, paint, crayons, stickers, words, and what have you. While you are working on this with your child, talk about ideas for the contents of this ‘Feel Better Toolbox.’ “What can we put in your ‘Feel Better Toolbox’ to help you help yourself feel better?” Examples include your favorite storybook, drawing paper and crayons for coloring or scribbling with in frustration, writing journal for expressing feelings, stuffed animals for hugging, blankets for snuggling. Maybe some index cards in the Feel Better place with suggestions (see box of examples below). Perhaps this space will have relaxing music such as Baroque that has less than 60 beats/minute and is known to be soothing to the heart rate, or maybe a guided imagery journey, audiobook or with older children upbeat tunes for singing and dancing to get the energy out, depending upon your child. You may introduce your child to an occasional different sensory object (see examples below) encouraging your child to learn, practice and develop a variety of ways to self-soothe. Your child is to store each object received in the ‘Feel Better Toolbox’ and practice using these objects only while in the ‘Feel Better Place’. I have provided a variety of examples to address many types of children, families and circumstances but now I want to step back and remind you to err on the side of keeping it simple, as we all know it can quickly become about getting ‘things and stuff’ rather than the development of self-soothing.
More sensory ideas for ‘Feel Better Toolbox’
-a harmonica, kazoo or corn blow pipe with rainbow silk (theraproducts.com), blowing up a paper bag – all for extending the out breath because breathing out long is the proven #1 way to self soothe (don’t teach breathing techs directly to young children)
-identify, express, emote-journal and pencils
-drawing pad with colored pencils and markers for scribbling or drawing; old favorite book to offer familiar comfort
-lavender lotion for massaging hands and breathing in a scent known for its calming properties
-blue/sad, red/mad and yellow/glad play dough for squishing, pounding and building;
-Wilbarger brushing technique (you tube)
-warm chamomile tea or ice, cold water; thick smoothies through a straw; chewy licorice; peppermints or chewing gum
-index cards are useful to write or illustrate reminders/recommendations of a yoga posture, exercises, heavy work plans, specific notes to self, “I have to use my words not my hands when I am upset. This will help me keep friends.“
‘Feel Better Time’
Step 3 – ‘S-T-O-P’ and Taking Time to Train
A) Show how to do B) Train together C) Observe doing D) Practice and do independently
Many times we say to a child “calm down.” However, most children do not respond successfully to that advice, let alone know how to. The ability to calm down is a skill and a gift for a lifetime that can be taught through daily conversation about feelings and behavior during calm times. When talking about ‘Feel Better Time’ explain to your child that everyone feels sad and angry at times and that by taking some time alone, we can calm down and make healthy choices that take better care of self and our relationships. Spend some calm time each day talking about feelings and teaching how to identify and express them, then it is important to move on to discussing ideas and solutions. This encourages the development of a solution oriented, frustration tolerant, optimistic child known to be more resilient and less vulnerable to irritability as a child and depression as a teenager. When we involve children in solutions and take the time to train them in how to self-soothe by everyone practicing going to their ‘Feel Better Place’ daily, when we don’t need to, we are more likely to successfully use the technique when it is needed.
NOW, when a situation arises in which self-control is becoming difficult, and where people are angry and just want their own way – it is time to take some ‘Feel Better Time’ to self-soothe, regain composure and then be able to talk respectfully. By implementing these three steps, you are supporting your child’s emotional IQ development including knowing and managing own emotions. Furthermore, when we learn to calm down and feel better we develop our inner wisdom and can connect to our intuition and common sense. This will improve the quality of the parent-child relationship, not to mention the overall quality of life for your family. An exciting moment to look for is when your child initiates going to the ‘Feel Better Place’ to self-soothe! After some practice you will find that ‘Feel Better Time’ is a place you can go to in your mind even when you are at school or work, regardless of where you are and what is around you.