Alternatives to Time-Out in the Classroom

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As teachers, we can come to rely heavily on time-outs as a way of handling difficult behaviors in the classroom. This lesson gives you some different ideas for helping children ameliorate their behaviors.

Beyond the Time-out

Mr. Mulligan has a difficult class this year. Though he has been teaching third grade for nearly a decade, he still struggles with behavior management, and this year's group seems to push every button. Mr. Mulligan notices that he is putting students in time-out for misbehavior almost every day, and it really isn't making a difference. He also notices that students do not necessarily seem to understand why they're getting put into time-out, experiencing it as a punishment rather than a learning opportunity. Mr. Mulligan decides that it's time to research alternatives to time-out in the classroom.

Restitution

One of the first things Mr. Mulligan learns about is the concept of restitution, which basically means that if a child misbehaves, he or she must make it up to anyone who was affected. For instance, when Robbie tears a page out of Quinn's book, he has to take the time to tape it back in carefully. Restitution also applies to more abstract situations. When Abigail makes so much noise during a concert that others cannot hear the music, she has to figure out a way to repay the debt to her classroom community. With Mr. Mulligan's help, Abigail decides to write a letter of apology to the class and research some music they can listen to online to make up for it. Mr. Mulligan finds that restitution is a more effective way to help children understand the real impact of their behavior and feel like a part of a community of learners.

Put it in Words

After talking to some colleagues, Mr. Mulligan also learns that when students misbehave, it's often a result of a feeling they don't know how to express, like anger, frustration, sadness, or even excitement. Mr. Mulligan decides to dedicate one class period each week to working with his third graders on vocabulary for describing strong feelings. When students begin to misbehave, Mr. Mulligan pulls them aside and asks them to use words to describe what is going on for them. He finds that when students are able to articulate their feelings in this way, behavior less frequently escalates to a point where a time-out would be needed.

Class Meetings

Mr. Mulligan also decides that some kinds of misbehavior are better handled by bringing the whole class together, rather than by punishing an individual student via a time-out. Some examples of these kinds of behaviors include:

  • Teasing and exclusion
  • Whole-group misbehavior
  • Misbehavior that seems to grow out of academic frustration
  • Misbehavior that seems to be a result of circumstances impacting more than two or three students, like an upcoming vacation or field trip

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