Is Think Time the new Naughty Seat?

Let me start by saying …

If you have a calming corner or safe space in your classroom that students can freely go to when they need it and calm in the way they want – AND it’s working for you and them. Go for it!

I’m going to offer a new perspective for teachers and educators who find that they are repeatedly sending the same students to Think Time, because of highly challenging, highly disruptive, or unsafe behavior in the classroom.

What is Think Time?

Think Time is an assigned area of the classroom, usually an empty desk or a calming corner where a student moves to when they are upset, frustrated, angry, disruptive, or engaging in unsafe behavior. 

We often see this performed in a few ways. When students go to Think Time, they are encouraged to think about their behavior and complete a reflection worksheet. From there, students may be encouraged to engage in calming activities until they or the teacher feel they are ready to re-engage in the academic lesson. 

The Truth is …

Most students do not use Think Time to reflect on their behavior. Similar to any timeout approach, children often spend this time feeling misunderstood or vengeful. They may strengthen their argument for why they were wrongfully sent there or use it as evidence for why they no longer feel understood by their teacher.

One teacher asked, “Is it better to follow them to the desk and teach them how to use the space?”

I wanted to say YES. There is no better moment than the opportunity to help a student build coping skills..

BUT, the most straightforward answer is: no

Let’s talk through a few scenarios:

A teacher stops the lesson to co-regulate with a student. Keep in mind that in many cases, students perform challenging behavior to gain individualized attention, guidance, and support from their teacher or classmates. Additionally, students may perform challenging behavior as a way to stop the lesson altogether. By pausing the lesson and following them to the desk, the student receives everything they were hoping for by engaging in the challenging behavior. We know that this pattern is common and likely to repeat in the future.

Suppose the choice of calming activities is highly preferred. What is more engaging and fun than coloring, drawing, and sensory fidget toys? Once the student has taken a moment and appears calm, you may notice that asking them to transition back to the academic lesson becomes a new challenge, causing another set of behaviors.  

Your student refuses “Think Time” altogether – now what? We have all been there, and if this hasn’t happened to you yet – it will. A student is dysregulated and could benefit from an emotional reset. You gently or firmly direct them to Think Time, and the student refuses. They stay at their desk and continue with the behavior. You weigh the costs and benefits of addressing the refusal now or continuing the lesson. 

All to say, you may have noticed …

Think Time does not work for all of your students, which may be why you are reading this. It can be especially problematic for teachers who hoped this intervention could be their go-to response plan for challenging behavior, especially when you are sending the same students there time and time again, encountering the same challenges.

And if this is YOU – THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Calming Corners and Think Time have been HIGHLY encouraged as a helpful tool and behavior response plan in the classroom. 

So now what?

If your reflection worksheets and Think Time calming corner desk feel punitive and ineffective – they probably are.

Ineffective doesn’t mean a student refuses the space. You may have a student sit there willingly, but time and time again, you find their time spent there actually takes more time away from academic engagement and has now become a new avoidance behavior ritual.

What is your goal?

Teachers, you will find the most opportunity and freedom when the goal for your student is about engagement, and learning is no longer about ritual compliance.

So when I was in middle school …

Siberia was the name of an empty desk in the very back of our classroom. The teacher introduced it as the coldest place on earth, so cold that your eyelashes will freeze. Fact-checked.

Was it a naughty seat? Yes

Were the same students directed to sit there? Absolutely.

Why? Naughty seats were historically a public shaming technique used as a response to non-compliance in the classroom.

So what’s your story?

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@thebehaviordetective