Your kid’s acting up. ‘Time out!’ you say, sending him to his ‘thinking chair.’ Ideally, this discipline strategy helps disrupt your child’s undesirable behavior, and give your child (and you) a chance to calm down.
However, not all time outs work, partially because they’re not done properly or parents have unrealistic expectations of both the child and this discipline method. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Set the right expectations.
Time outs put your child in the right mind frame to listen to you. They’re perfect when he’s ignored your ‘No’s!’ and is shrieking too loudly to actually hear (or care) what you’re saying.
But that’s just the first step. At the end of the time out you need to talk to your child, and explain what he did wrong and what action you expect. Be concrete. Don’t say ‘Don’t be mean to your sister!’ say ‘Don’t push or hit when you play.’
Without that ‘talk’ your child won’t learn anything from the timeout. You may have ended today’s misbehavior but you don’t prevent it from happening again in the future.
Also, time outs work best for kids who are three years old or older.
2. Find the right spot.
Set one area in the house for time outs. It should be quiet and free of distractions. A small chair facing a corner will work. However, this area should still be in your line of vision. Usually this is enough to stop a child from wandering off.
3. Set family guidelines.
You, your partner and all other caregivers/adults in the home should agree on what kind of behavior merits a timeout. As with all discipline methods, consistency is very important.
4. Set reasonable time limits.
It’s unrealistic to expect a three-year-old to sit still for 15 minutes! Experts believe that you should allot one minute for every year of age. Since toddlers (and even some preschoolers) don’t really understand the concept of time, set an oven timer to ring by the end of the time out.
5. Establish a warning system.
It’s best to give your child one verbal warning before you actually administer a time out. This gives him an opportunity to stop what he’s doing and change behavior.
6. Don’t yell or rub it in.
Time outs should help both of you calm down, so avoid feeding frustration or anger. Don’t say ‘I told you a thousand times! This is your fault!’ or drag your child to the chair. Instead, keep your voice firm and low. ‘Go to your chair!’ and gently escort him. If he flails, just pick him up.
7. Keep things quiet.
Turn off the television, radio, or anything that could distract or entertain your child during the timeout. Instruct other family members not to talk to him or approach him.
8. Balance time outs with time ins.
Time outs don’t work if you frequently ignore your child or send him away. After all, what’s the difference between sitting in a corner and sitting alone in a sofa because Mommy’s too busy to play?
Every day, connect to your child, making him feel that you love him, enjoy his company, and appreciate it when he follows rules and displays positive behavior.