I’m sure just about every parent has heard of “time out” and very likely used it. Pantley has some great take-home points on this age-old disciplinary trick to make it more effectively. Here they are:
- Time out is not meant to be a punishment. It is used to stop a specific misbehaviour, and to help a child learn how to calm himself and to control his behaviour.
- Time out stops misbehaviour but it does not correct it. Once parent and child are calm, it is important to follow up with the teaching.
- The teaching: be brief, concise and polite (don’t scold, or lecture – oops!). Explain why your child was in the time out and how to avoid going there again. Conclude with the request for an apology for the misbehaviour.
- It is not necessary to hold a grudge or stay angry after the time out because the time out has made the point to your child that his behaviour was unacceptable. When teaching, you don’t have to hold back a hug or telling your child “I love you”. This latter is important because it communicates to your child that he can make mistakes and learn from them, and while he is wrong, he can still be forgiven, respected and loved (I thought this was a good point because I usually do hug him and tell him I love him but have always wondered if that was the right thing to do).
- Decide which issues warrant a time out and make sure your child knows them. Backtalk, hitting and destructiveness are suitable issues for time outs.
- Don’t use time out for tantrums because it is difficult to keep a child in that state in a time out. You’ll end up having to drag him back there over and over again.
- Use a safe, boring location for time out. Young children may find it frightening to be banished to isolation in a separate room and this can escalate the problem. You can use a chair, step or vacant corner for such cases. Avoid using your child’s bedroom, play area or favourite chair as it may create a negative association.
- How long? The general rule of thumb is one minute per year of your child’s age. Alternatively, you can keep him there until he calms down which can be more or less than the minute method.
- If your child cries, yells or stomps while in time out – let him. He is upset and he should be. Just don’t allow him to be destructive or to swear.
- If your child continually repeats the offending behaviour despite the time out, repeat the time out. Continue to do it again and again. This is normal because children need repeat lessons to learn. By being consistent, he will eventually learn that the behaviour is not acceptable and that you mean what you say.
- If the time out is not working for your child, it is possible it has been used too often, for too many reasons, or in a way that does not clearly convey its purpose. Either revise how you use it or use another disciplinary tool.
What if your child won’t stay in time out? Don’t fight him, force him, or lock him in. Try one of these ideas:
- Explain the time out and make sure your child understands what it means.
- Practice time out at a time when your child is not misbehaving. You can role play and pretend to be your child. You model the behaviour for your child so he knows what is expected of him during the time out.
- When using time out, walk your child to the time out spot. If he moves off, be firm but gentle as you guide him back to the spot.
- Sit with your child, but don’t talk or lecture.
- You can also have the time out wherever your child happens to be. Just stand over him, cross your arms and tell him, “You’r in a time out.
- If your child has stopped the misbehaviour, consider the time out over, even if it only took 10 seconds. Remember that the aim of the time out is to stop the misbehaviour.