I hear it often from parents, “Time out doesn’t work for my kids!”
Although there can be truth in this statement, we can’t put it all on the kids. Sometimes we as parents need to redouble our efforts and consider our own role in the intervention. When it doesn’t go as planned, the results can be disappointment, frustration and reluctance to try it again.
Here are five tactics to help families use time-out effectively as a disciplinary technique.
1. Keep it boring — really boring
So your child kicks and screams at first? Don’t react; don’t reveal how frustrated you are. No attention to reinforce a poor behavior. Don’t answer questions or be drawn into a conversation. No toys, no television, no music. Time-out is a state of mind; it’s a complete break from action and engagement. Commit and don’t let up. You must be willing to stick with it, no matter how long it takes. And this commitment will pay off, as the time out resistance gets shorter and shorter as your kiddo learns the drill.
2. Be consistent despite location.
Time-out is not dependent on being at home. It can, and should be, used in the car, grandma’s house, church or the grocery store. Let the behavior determine the discipline. The same poor behavior at home that leads to time-out should lead to time-out elsewhere. It’s not easy. You may end up in a back corner of the store or you may decide to head out to the car. It’s your choice as the parent. You lead the time-out, not the child.
3. Use a timer.
Choose a duration that works for you and your child. You must be willing to focus on the time out process for that same amount of time. A reasonable rule of thumb is one minute for every year of age. However, every child is different. You know your child. Help him succeed. Determine an amount of time that is suitable and stick to it. Whether 5 minutes, 3 minutes, or 30 seconds, the timer starts when the child is quiet. Restart the timer if the child leaves during the time-out. If a bathroom break is necessary, pause the timer but don’t forget to pick up where you left off when bathroom time is done. While the timer helps you keep track of time, it does not signal when the time-out is over. The alarm sounds – the child stays put until you say time-out is done.
Get everyone on the same page before you act. Talk about time-out with your child, other family members and caregivers. Make sure they understand the behaviors that will lead to time-out. During this time of learning, pick your time out location and then have “show and tell.” Parents can put each other in a time-out, explaining step by step to the kids what is happening and why. Model the behavior you want your child to use during time-out and make expectations clear. You may need to practice several times before the child catches on.
5. Don’t give up.
Discipline isn’t easy. A majority of parents give up on time-out. Stick with it, make adjustments. This is an incremental process. Sometimes the behavior may get worse before it gets better, especially if you tried time-out before and it “didn’t work”. To be effective, it requires us to be more consistent and to follow through when poor behavior occurs.
Whether you choose time-out or another disciplinary technique, it should be immediate and contingent. Keep a consequence as close as possible to when the problem behavior occurs, and make sure that consequence is applied automatically. Children catch on quickly when it comes to knowing which family member or caregiver will give in.
Here’s something to remember – one of the most effective techniques has nothing to do with discipline. Children want attention; they want interaction with parents and caregivers. Time-out only works if it is a sharp contrast to time in. Praise good behavior and provide positive reinforcement, too. Just like adults, kids want to hear they’re doing a good job!
Dr. Ashley Harlow with Children’s Hospital and Medical Center Behavioral Health wrote this guest blog for momaha.com
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Join us at 6 p.m. Tuesday for a live chat on momaha.com with Dr. Ashley Harlow to help parents apply the discipline technique of time-outs.
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