Using Effective Time-Outs
Many parents use the same type of discipline
for every problem situation. One tool, however, is rarely effective for all
situations. Plus, overusing one particular tool also reduces its usefulness.
Timeout is just one tool -- and it really isn't a "discipline" tool; it's an
effective anger-management tool. Since the purpose of a timeout is to help
someone regain control, it is most appropriate to use when someone has lost
self-control or there is extremely disruptive behavior.
Most adults have the mistaken idea that the whole point of
sending children to timeout is to make the child suffer for their misbehavior.
"You go to your room (or chair) and think about what you did." The tone of voice
usually implies, "and you suffer." Imposing suffering only brings on more
resentment and power struggles. Effective discipline, however, teaches children
lessons from their poor behavior choices, rather than punishing them. If you
want timeouts to be constructive, try following these guidelines:
Develop a plan in advance. Teach children during a happy time about the value of
a cooling-off period. Say, "When you feel like you're going to lose control, you
can go (specify the place) and do something to make yourself feel better. Then,
when you feel better, come out and we can work on a solution."
Teach children how to regain self-control. Suggest things the child can do to
calm down while in timeout. Older children can help decide where to go and what
they can do to help themselves calm down.
Allow the child to play. Many parents are upset when they find their child
playing during timeout, but it's actually a good sign that the child has
regained self-control. If they are ready to play, children might also be ready
to do some problem solving.
Select a location for the time-out. Some children calm down faster when they are
alone and in a quiet place. Other children have too much energy to be forced to
sit still. Some children become more out-of-control and hurtful when they are
forced to spend timeouts alone. These children can cool off in the same room as
other people, as long as they aren't disruptive.
Some parents hesitate to use a child's room for fear the child will view the
bedroom as a prison. If the timeout is initiated kindly and the goal is to give
the child and you some quiet space, children won't see it as punishment. If you
feel the child will be destructive, plan ahead and remove or put objects you
don't want destroyed out of reach.
If you force a child to stay in a chair or room, it shifts the focus from what
they did and their responsibility for calming down to who is in power. This
turns the timeout into a punishment, which removes its effectiveness.
Present time-outs as a choice. A child can choose to settle down or take some
time out. Suggest the timeout in a kind and firm manner, followed by the
encouraging instructions to come back when the child is ready.
Avoid timers. Use the child's ability to regain self-control or willingness to
act appropriately to decide how long a timeout should last. Timers often turn
timeouts into power struggles. If children have calmed down and are ready to
return but parents won't let them "come out," it often escalates the situation.
If children return before they have calmed down, firmly but kindly return them
to the timeout and reemphasize the purpose is to cool off. Describe the behavior
you want to see that shows they are calm.
When a timeout is over: If the child lost control due to anger, let it go and
don't call attention to the behavior you want to stop. If the problem is serious
or recurring, wait until both of you have calmed down and then use problem
solving to generate ideas for handling the situation differently in the future.
Think about your long-term goal. If you want children to learn that it is their
responsibility to control their behavior, use timeouts as cooling off periods
which teach children how to achieve this self-control.
By Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE
Jody Johnston Pawel is a Licensed Social
Worker, Certified Family Life Educator, second-generation parent educator,
founder of The Family Network, and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She
is the author of 100+ parent education resources, including her award-winning
book, The Parent's Toolshop. For 25+ years, Jody has trained parents and family
professionals through her dynamic workshops and interviews with the media
worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines, and the Ident-a-Kid
television series. Jody currently serves as the online parenting expert for Cox
Ohio Publishing?s mom-to-mom websites and also serves on the Advisory Board of
the National Effective Parenting Initiative.
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