I've been treating time out as a cool down for emotional regulation coaching instead of as punishment for a strategy. We address the heightened emotions with some calming practice that helps re-center physically. Once we're calm and open we talk about what she is feeling and wanting. We talk about what "she did" in terms of what strategies she tried (behaviors and actions) and why it wasn't successful for her and me, in terms of what we value. We brainstorm about other strategies she could use instead. Yesterday, our four year old threw a toy that wouldn't work across the room, we took a cool down break. Afterwards we talked about what else she could do to express the frustration of the toy not working (besides throwing it which might break it forever, and which doesn't support my need for safety) and to get help with trying to get the toy to work. We did three repetitions of practice in venting the frustration verbally then bringing the toy to me for help. She seemed to enjoy the attention and the playful practice. On the third time, she brought her head up, her shoulders back, and smiled at me with a look of empowerment.
Just an hour later, she was walking me through the same steps. I had gotten frustrated because my need to be heard by another child was not being met. My strategies of knocking on the door and eventually yelling through the locked door were not working. I became fearful for his safety and lost it. I flipped my lid. I got the key and let myself in his room to find him safely and happily listening to music with his headphones. I didn't mask the reaction as well as I like and our daughter came over and started massaging my tense shoulders and saying in a slow monotone voice, "Be-lax, mama, breathe in, breathe out, be lax."
That short little guided meditation by our four year old brought me back to the moment and to an all over sense of calm from head to toe. I then visited with our son and realized I had other choices I could try to get his attention next time.
Sometimes what goes around is welcome to come back around!
A note about the time it takes for this cool down, strategize, and practice alternative to time out punishment:
This sounds like it would take a lot of time but it really didn't, it was about 5 minutes. When we employ time out as a punishment, it is likely that our children's needs stay unmet because they may get more emotionally charged by the punishment, if they don't return to a calm state where they can find other strategies and if we are emotionally disconnected we don't show them, or help them find, other strategies that can be minutes or even hours of one time out leading to another and another and another and the child doesn't learn a more effective way to deal with a situation or address his/her own needs.