As Lawrence J. Cohen says, there are a lot of great reasons to choose a “meeting on the couch” over a “time out.”* Whenever a problem of any kind arises, a meeting on the couch will allow parent and child to reconnect. Having “a problem” means that somewhere a disconnection has occurred, and the disconnection is causing the problem, making it worse, or making it harder to solve.

The meeting-on-the-couch rule is that if someone calls a meeting on the couch, the other person has to show up for the meeting. Then anything might happen. A serious talk about what has been going on might ensue, or you and your child may just reconnect. A meeting on the couch allows time for your child to tell you—either in words or tears—that something has been bothering him or her and has been held in. Once you know more about the situation, you can help your child with his or her big feelings. Or maybe you want to talk about some of your frustrations about chores being ignored. By meeting on the couch, you get an opportunity to revisit your message and expectation that basic family rules and values be respected.

When you make reconnecting the top priority, tension seems to evaporate as soon as you hit the couch. You might even end up being silly and goofy with your child, resulting in laughter. Connection is reestablished. When you are both ready, you can go back and do things differently. There is a better mutual understanding of what went haywire and how to avoid that specific pitfall in the future.

You can call a meeting on the couch for anything, not just for misbehavior. Maybe you have noticed that your child seems sad, maybe you both have been stressed and irritable, maybe everyone’s schedule has been too darn busy and you have missed connecting, or maybe you simply want to talk about what to do over an upcoming school break. Regardless of the topic for the meeting, everyone usually feels better after a meeting on the couch.

*Dr. Cohen is a psychologist who specializes in children’s play, play therapy, and parenting.

More to consider . . .

A meeting on the couch differs significantly from a time out. A time out is a punishment that adults do to children. Time outs often enforce isolation on kids who probably already feel isolated, off balance, and disconnected. Alternately, a meeting on the couch is something that a parent and child do together. A meeting on the couch improves connection. The message is that we have a problem rather than you have a problem. Typically, you’ll notice more cooperation from your little one when the tone and message convey that change is something done together.