Using Empathy to Help Kids Self-regulate

How Being Calm and Collected Gets Us Connected

Rich Simon

It’s been a longstanding practice in schools and at home: if a child is being disruptive you put them in Time Out. When they’ve had time to cool down and think about what they did wrong, then you bring them back into the fold.



But according to Martha Straus, author of No-Talk Therapy for Children and Adolescents, Time Outs don’t really nip misbehavior in the bud. Instead, they often exacerbate anxiety, making kids feel misunderstood and alone. Young kids can’t self-soothe and regulate emotion like adults can. That’s why, in these sorts of situations, she says we need to turn to co-regulation, “loaning” our limbic brains and emotional stability to help kids feel attended to and comforted.


In this brief video clip, Martha recalls an instance in which she used co-regulation with a young boy who was put in isolation after throwing a tantrum at school. “I looked through a little porthole in the Time Out room and I just saw this terrified, red-faced little squirt,” she says. So when she entered the room, Martha crumpled to the floor along with him and repeated the words “I’m here” in a soothing voice.


“We are wired for comfort,” Martha says. “Our need for compassion is profound and basic. From the beginning of time, this is what’s made us human.” In the Networker Webcast series A New Road Map for Working with Kids and Teens, Martha offers tips for connecting with even the most anxious young clients by using your emotional brain, vocal tone, and body language to make them feel understood when they think nobody else can relate.


A New Roadmap for Working with Kids and Teens:
Getting Through to Today's Distracted Youth

Click here for full course details

Topic: Children/Adolescents | Anxiety/Depression

Tags: emotion | emotional brain | empathy | kids | Martha Straus | teens | therapy | therapy for children

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1 Comment

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 4:40:35 AM | posted by Laura
There are many useful comments about self-soothing and context. I would not, however, generalize the described lengthy isolation with time out. That is misleading.