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?