How to discipline your child: time-outs

How to discipline your child: time-outs

A time-out is a period during which a child is removed from the troublesome situation or temptation. It's their chance to calm down, regroup and remember what is expected of them.

Here's how to make time-outs an effective tool

Consider your child’s age

Every child is different, children younger than 18 to 24 months old don't really understand the concept, and older kids generally need more sophisticated ways to learn how to behave well.

Follow through on rules 

During a time-out, the child does not get to interact with the parent or care provider. A time-out is meant to be a minor form of isolation that says, in effect, 'When you do this, you can't be a part of things'.

Establish a pattern

This requires an initial investment of time that most parents find worthwhile. Resetting a child's expectations is harder than getting it right the first time, but it's still worth the time and energy.

Setting up a time-out

Place a chair in a safe but boring spot, such as the corner of a dining room or a rarely used entrance area. Be sure the place is away from care providers and the 'scene of the crime'. Being in the middle of things provides too much opportunity for compounding the problem with teasing and provocative behaviour.

Try not to use a child's bedroom can it can create negative associations with a place that should be a safe haven. A bedroom also tends to contain too many distractions.

Be sure the time-out location is a safe place where the child can be left alone without supervision. For example, the top of a staircase, near breakable items and next to a door that he can open are all NOT the places to choose.

How to carry it out

Warn first

After two warnings about the forbidden behaviour, announce, 'Okay, it's time for a time-out'. Nothing more. Pick up the child and place him in the time-out seat.

Set a timer

The duration should be about one minute per year of the child's age.

Be firm

If the child gets up, simply put him back in the chair and reset the timer. Don't say anything and don’t give in. 

Forgive and forget

When the timer goes off, say, 'It's all done now', give him a hug, and leave it at that. Don't mention the issue again. Give him something new to do, a positive alternative to the forbidden activity.

Common pitfalls

Talking too much

This only confuses the child, adds to the tension and upsets everyone. A simple statement of the transgression when the 'crime' is committed followed by 'It's time for a time-out' is enough.

Backfiring

If a time-out provides more attention to the child than he receives when he's behaving well, he'll continue to draw your attention with the provocative behaviour.

The parent is too upset

Take a second to calm down. Go back to your child, state the reason for the time-out, and put him in time-out. Be sure you save this scenario for the worst of 'crimes' rather than making it a habit.

Not rewarding good behaviour.

One approach is to 'catch him' being good. This is hard because as the misbehaviour escalates, your natural tendency is to push back and even try to avoid him.

Special circumstances

Behaviour

If your child is frantic or ill, he won't be able to learn from the time-out. For children who have experienced a lot of serious separations, time-outs bring up too much emotion, which overrides the learning opportunity.

Developmental age

Children who are developmentally delayed or very advanced in cognitive skills may need to be treated based on their developmental age rather than their chronological age.

Spending all day doing time-out?

If you find that your child is especially provocative, it might be because they're experiencing stress or pressure, or simply because he’s bored. Ask yourself whether you’re projecting stress – a child will do provocative things to pull you out of your shell, even if it means risking your anger.

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