Emotional Kids Need This Life Skill

When the intensity increases and your child loses control it’s important for your child to take a Break. With young children, as young as two or three years old, have them sit in a particular place, a chair, a carpet square, the hallway, or a bottom step. For older children you might send them to the hall or to the parent’s room or to another quiet place.

Of course sending a child to take a Break is often met with resistance, especially when the child is angry. That’s all the more reason why it’s an essential skill to learn. Children must learn to settle down.

Unfortunately, parents often ramp up the intensity with their own emotion when a child gets upset. This can lead to an escalation of words and a power struggle. Then the focus is taken off settling down and instead is placed on the relational struggle with the parent.

A Break is Not a Time Out

A Break is often an important step in the correction strategy to force the child to settle down and be ready for a debriefing about the offense. Taking a Break is much more effective than Time Out. The instructions given are simple and clear. “You need to take a Break, change your heart, settle down, and come back and see me when you’re ready to talk about this.”

Two differences are important. First, the child knows that the objective in taking a Break is a changed heart, and, second, the child also helps determine the length of time spent in the break place, coming back only when ready for a debriefing.

These two differences between Time Out and a Break change the posture of the parent. With Time Out, the parent is the policeman, keeping the child in the chair until the sentence for misbehavior has been served. With a Break, the parent is eagerly waiting for the child to return so that positive family life can continue.

Use the Break for Heart Change

Sometimes a child’s stubbornness or defiance is obvious. In those moments, stop dealing with the issue at hand and talk about the process of how you’re relating. “I can tell you’re upset and it’s not good for us to continue before you settle down. You need to take a Break and come back when you’re ready to continue talking about this in a calm way.”

Have the child sit in the hall or on the bottom step or some other boring place. After the child has settled down, then he or she needs to come back to you and talk about the problem.

For Some Kids, This is Quite Difficult

If your child comes back without having a heart change, then send the child back again. One dad told the story of seven-year-old Belinda who was yelling at her brother. “I called her upstairs to talk to me about it and she began yelling at me. I told her that was inappropriate and to take a Break in the hall and settle down.

“About a minute later she came back but was obviously not changed. Her head was tilted down, her posture was slumping and her bottom lip was sticking out. I didn’t even have to talk with her. I just told her what I saw, ‘Belinda, I can tell you’re not ready yet. The way you’re standing and the expression on your face all tell me that you still have a problem in your heart.

“You need to go back until you’re ready to come out with a changed heart’. This time she stayed away for about twenty minutes and when she returned she was obviously different. In fact, I took her head in my hands and looked deep into her eyes and said, ‘I can see your heart in there. It looks pretty nice right now. It looks like you’re ready to talk about this.’

“Belinda giggled and then we continued to talk about the problem. I explained to her that she could not yell at her dad. That was disrespectful even if she’s angry. We also talked about the right responses she could have if she was angry with her brother.”

That dad used a Break to help his daughter settle down and thus maximized the correction process. A Break helps parents address heart issues with children and can become a primary discipline technique.

A Biblical Approach

The Break actually comes from the Bible in the teaching of discipline in God’s family, the Church (Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5, and 2 Corinthians 2). The idea is basically this: If you can’t abide by the principles that make this family work, then you can’t enjoy the benefits of family life. The two go hand in hand.

Most children resist the Break, especially at first. After all, not many people naturally want to pull back and settle down when they feel upset. That’s all the more reason to put a Break into practice in your home.

It teaches children important self-discipline strategies for their hearts. Over time they’ll learn that pushing forward is the wrong response and usually leads to something they’ll regret.

If a child refuses to take a Break you have several options depending on the age. With younger children you may physically put them there to help them learn what the Break is all about. With older children you might refuse to move forward in family life with any benefits until the child takes a Break. Kids need to learn that the Break isn’t an optional. It’s required.

Not Just For Kids

Of course the Break isn’t just a childhood solution. Many parents would benefit from taking a Break. One mom said, “I feel a lot of intensity and tend to react without thinking. It’s as if my emotions have the ability to bypass my brain. It takes work to understand what’s actually going on.

“I’m learning to slow down and think more before acting. I’m making progress and I’m gaining some insight into how I relate to my kids. They’re seeing some changes in me too. I’m becoming less afraid of emotions and more eager to understand them and make the most of them in our family.”

If you’re struggling with emotional intensity in yourself or your children, then every time you see the emotion rising, slow things down, take a Break, and resist the temptation to turn up the heat. That’s the first step toward managing conflict in a healthy way.

Don’t allow conflict to escalate into a battle. Stop the intensity with a Break. It’ll not only help you stay calm but also it’ll help your children develop some maturity in dealing with conflict.


  • Greta Edwards
    Posted at 13:54h, 09 October Reply

    Total agree on this approach, We have tried this on our two children and have got positive results. It’s always nice to have a refresher on parenting skills.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 09:35h, 26 October Reply

      Thank you Greta.

  • Jamie Ferrara
    Posted at 22:32h, 09 October Reply

    Taking a break is vital in our house and has helped everyone. However, my son would refuse to take a break and he would escalate in his anger and it would last a long time before he would take a break, causing a lot of problems. We began practicing breaks in hopes that when he is very emotional and in “fight or flight mode” it would be a practiced habit to go take one. We have had a lot of success with this so I’d encourage parents who have strong-willed emotional children to try this approach if their children fight taking a break.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 09:34h, 26 October Reply

      Thank you Jamie for taking time to add a comment here. I’m sure it will be encouraging for many other parents.

  • Tracy S
    Posted at 22:46h, 09 October Reply

    I love your insight about practicing when things aren’t so intense!

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 09:36h, 26 October Reply

      Thank you Tracy. It’s always helpful when our readers let us know what helps them. It often guides our future posts.

  • Gale Mccall
    Posted at 12:16h, 10 October Reply

    We use this in our classroom (sort of). We have not used the term “break”, we use “chill”. This system empowers the child to have control and works well. I like “break” and we will use this term. It does not put the child in a defense mode and has a more positive reaction from the child (most of the time). Children are all about choices and control. I enjoy and learn from your post.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 09:33h, 26 October Reply

      Thank you Gale. The terminology isn’t as important as the idea behind it. The Break idea is really an adult skill that kids must learn early in order to be most effective. Thank you for what you’re doing for the kingdom.

  • Kimberly Knighton
    Posted at 21:08h, 10 October Reply

    Awesome strategy. Taking a break puts the responsibility on the child to calm down and refocus. Time out sounds really punitive and keeps them on the defense.

    • scott turansky
      Posted at 09:32h, 26 October Reply

      Kimberly, you’re right. Time Out isn’t very effective. But the Break idea was designed to embrace a repentance model for children and is a great tool for change. Transferring responsibility to the child is one of the pillars of a heart-based approach. We do it in several ways as we develop parenting tools that reflect how God works with us.

  • Kelly Taylor
    Posted at 10:54h, 07 December Reply

    I am always blessed by your articles that provide Biblical insight into the specifics of raising kids! Thank you SO much! We really appreciate taking breaks for family unity and feeling understood and understanding others.

  • Leanne Carrington
    Posted at 22:07h, 07 December Reply

    I do this with my 2&3 year old kiddos in my preschool class. I only use Time-out if a child hurts someone or is being destructive. I have found that taking a break is most of the time all they need to reset.

  • Bethany Harry
    Posted at 16:28h, 08 December Reply

    Thank you for the reminder to take a break in a “boring” place. My (young and mid) teens don’t focus on their heart work when they go to their rooms because they pick up a book to read or do hair, etc. Pray that I can communicate the explanation and need for somewhere else as a break, to get us back on a better track for dealing with emotions. Thanks!

  • scott turansky
    Posted at 11:16h, 08 January Reply

    Thank you Kelly for taking the time to comment. Many parents have told us that the Break idea has saved their family. It stops the escalation in many cases but more importantly, it teaches kids an adult skill. Thanks again.

  • scott turansky
    Posted at 11:18h, 08 January Reply

    Leanne, it’s great to hear that you’re using the Break idea in a classroom and with young preschoolers. Sometimes parents think this won’t work with young kids but it is a skill that they can learn. And, if kids can start out learning this when they are young, just imagine how much better they will be as spouses someday. 🙂

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