Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Go to time-out!

While there are lots of parenting strategies for discipline, perhaps the most widely used is the time-out. And there is a reason! Time-out models great emotional strategies for your kids (such as using non-violent responses and cooling down when upset), halts the conflict, provides your child a time to reflect on his behavior, removes attention from him, and provides much-needed time to calm down (for both the kids and the parents!). For minor behavior issues (such as whining, nagging, trouble sharing, etc), other parenting strategies can be used - such as ignoring, providing natural consequences, taking away objects/privileges, or other problem-solving strategies. Time-out is most effective for aggression, extreme or intentional destructive behavior, and persistent non-compliance. Here are some basics for correctly using time-out:
  • Choose a time-out location, plus a back-up location with a door. These locations should be safe and as boring as possible. In our house, the time-out location is the foot of the stairs, and the back-up location is the kids' bedroom.
  • You control when time-out begins and ends. 
  • The guideline for time-out is one minute per year of life, so your 3-year-old should be in time-out for 3 minutes. But, if you are away from home, it is OK to shorten this a bit if you need to.
  • Speaking of being away from home - time-outs can be given anywhere, so don’t be afraid to be consistent no matter where you are! Just stay calm, find a safe and quiet place, and keep an eye on him. 
For aggressive behavior:
  • Once children understand that this behavior is not acceptable, there should be no warning. If you give a warning (such as "If you hit your sister again you are going into time-out"), then you are just providing another opportunity to hit! So, say something like, “We do not hit. Hitting hurts. Go into time out to calm down.” 
  • After time out, talk briefly to your child about why he is in time out, and what he could do next time. Keep it short and sweet. 
  • In our house, we encourage our kids to then go and apologize to whomever they hurt (usually, of course, it is the brother!). You can choose whether or not to do this - in our family, we decided that saying sorry after you hurt someone is just as important as learning to say please and thank you and excuse me.  Some parenting experts suggest not to force this issue because they believe that saying sorry may become insincere and a way to get out of the situation. In our family, this has not been the case. I have frequently witnessed my kids saying sorry independently, and they certainly have a healthy sense of right, wrong, and remorse. If the time-outter is not ready after time-out to say sorry, I usually say, “OK, if you’re not ready, you can come out when you are ready.”  Typically, however, he will readily say sorry; we also encourage the brother to say, “It’s ok” so that we are also teaching acceptance of apologies.
For extreme and intentional destructive behavior:
  • This means intentionally throwing or breaking toys/objects. 
  • Once children understand that this behavior is not acceptable, there should be no warning. If your child throws a toy and breaks it, you can't say, "If you do that again, you will go into time-out." That was an extreme and purposeful behavior and needs to be addressed. So, say something like, "We do not throw toys. Go into time-out to calm down.” 
  • After time-out, you can either talk briefly to your child about why he is in time-out, and what he could do next time; or you can just let it go and move on. This depends on your situation, your child’s level of language, and other factors.
For persistent non-compliance: 
  • This means those situations when you feel like a broken record and your child is saying "No!" or giving excuses. (This is assuming you have tried all of the strategies outlined in this post, of course!)
  • Instead of saying the direction over and over, just give a warning such as, “If you do not put away your toys, you will have to go to time-out.” (I think I say this exact sentence at least once a day!) 
  • If he still does not move to clean up, just say, “Ok, go to time out.” 
  • After time-out, be sure to follow through on the original direction (“Now go pick up your toys”) - do not let time-out become a way to avoid the task!
What about kids who refuse to go to time-out?
  • Whatever you do, don't enter into a battle or power struggle. Simply say something like, “You can go to time-out by yourself or I can help you.” 
  • If he still does not go, take his hand and walk him there. 
  • If he flops to the ground and refuses to walk (you know what I mean!), simply pick him up and carry him there. (Hey, we all need some strength training, right?)
What about kids who refuse to stay in time-out?
  • First, give a warning to return to time-out. For us, this is usually something like, "If you can't stay on the stairs, you will have to go to your room." 
  • If he leaves again, lead or carry him to the back-up time-out location. In our house, this is the boys’ bedroom. Keep the door open but stand out of sight. 
  • If he tries to leave this room, give a warning that you will need to close the door if he leaves again. 
  • If he leaves again, close the door. (We have this very cool child-safe lock which keeps the door open a few inches, prevents fingers from getting slammed, and also prevents the child from opening the door.) 
  • Now, time-out in the bedroom is tricky - there are lots of books, clothes, etc. which may get thrown around during a tantrum. But, we don’t have another good option. I handle this in two different ways. 
    • I stand nearby and if I see a book or other object being thrown, I step in and correct it right away, then leave again.
    • If I am not able to stand nearby (such as when I am in the middle of cooking dinner) and I come back to find a huge mess, then the time-outter is responsible for cleaning up the mess before he can leave the room. I make sure to remind him of this prior to the time out. If you truly follow through on this clean up, your child probably won’t make such as mess again. One day, one of my kids went on a rampage through his closet and took every single shirt, jacket, sweater off the hangers and threw them around the room (all in the span of 4-minutes!). It took him about 2 hours to put them all back, but I did not back down - and he never made that mess again.
For children under 3: Some parenting experts believe that time-outs are not effective for kiddos under 3. However, many parents still do use time-out for toddlers. You can decide this based on your situation. We began introducing time-out at around 15-18 months, although obviously we kept it very short and limited the language involved. It worked for us (especially with twins who were often toddler-fighting over toys!) and it taught them that this would be our discipline routine. Over the next few years we continued to use it consistently and it has been very effective.

For older children: If you are just starting to use time-out and your children are older, be prepared for some push-back! Behaviors might get worse before they get better, but continue to be calm, firm, and consistent. You have an advantage with older children - you can sit them down ahead of time to talk about your new expectations and consequences.

Things to remember:
  • If used correctly and consistently, time-out is an easy and effective discipline method. In fact, some children eventually begin to put themselves in time-out. My children actually do this, particularly after wrestling or playing that becomes aggressive. They will say something like, “Sorry! I’m going in time-out,” and will sit on the stairs. I make sure to praise them for taking this step - I see it as a great example of understanding actions and consequences, as well as the beginning of self-regulation.
  • As always, stay calm, firm, and consistent!

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