The Cooling Off Period
The "cooling off period" (Nelson, 1996) is an effective tool for putting some space between you and your children when emotions run high, and communication breaks down. Basically, the cooling off period is a "positive time-out" that allows everyone a chance to readjust emotionally so that constructive solutions can be found to problems. You can use the cooling off period to:
- Stop a misbehavior that has gone out of control
- Allow your child a chance to calm down and regain control of his/her emotions.
- Allow yourself a chance to cool off and move from a position of anger to one of thoughtfulness and kindness.
- Gain some time to think about the best direction to take in dealing with the problem behavior, which helps to avoid rash decisions and irrational punishments.
- Preserve a positive relationship with your child in the face of conflict.
- Promote problem solving versus revenge seeking.
- The cooling off period is most useful when a power struggle arises between parent and child. Power struggles inevitably involve angry feelings, impulsive verbalizations, and rash decision-making. Hurtful things are likely to be said, and extreme punishments are often levied. Children may focus mostly on seeking revenge rather than on improving their behavior.
To effectively use a cooling off period, it is best to have your child to go to his room for awhile, giving both of you some physical distance from each other. Let him entertain himself in his room as a means of getting a handle on his feelings. It is not necessary to add punishment to the time-out by restricting his activities once in the room. You might even plan out with him at another time what kinds of activities he likes and can use to soothe himself when he's upset such as reading or playing with special toys. Then, when both of you are ready, allow him to come out of his room and resume working on solving the problem.
It is not necessary to make children stay in their rooms for a specified amount of time during the cooling-off period. This is not a punishment, but rather a method for learning how to manage anger and solve problems constructively. You may feel that you are reinforcing the negative behavior by not making the time-out more uncomfortable, but this is not so as long as the cooling off period is followed by continued efforts to solve the original problem. Ultimately, you are giving your child the tools for self-discipline and emotional stability.
NOTE: The cooling-off period is different than regular time-out. It works well for children that have difficulties with frustration tolerance and tend to get into power struggles easily, and who have difficulty getting their emotions under control. Regular time-out is another parenting strategy that works well in situations where one is trying to focus the attention upon rules. See the article entitled "The Proper Use of Time-Out" on this website for a fuller explanation.
Nelson, J. Positive Discipline. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.