It’s not going out on a limb to say that at eventually, mom or dad will resort to the “time out” rule when their little one is behaving badly. And that’s a good thing.
Time-outs can be very effective in helping children learn how to change their behavior as long as they are not overused and handled correctly.
What is a time-out? Basically, a time-out is when a child is separated from others for behavior that is unacceptable such as throwing a full-out tantrum, continuingly refusing to obey a command, or biting, hitting or kicking someone.
When used correctly, a time out can teach a child how to modify his or her behavior in a more acceptable way. However, problems can arise when parents don’t know how or when to use time outs effectively.
Time outs should be used as positive and consistent discipline, not as a form of punishment. Time outs separate a child from positive feedback when they are intentionally acting up. It gives them the space and time to settle down and associate the behavior with the consequence.
A time out should consist of a designated place in the home where the child is safe and can be seen. The place should be quiet and away from the activity that caused or included the behavior. Many parents have a stool, chair or step on standby for time outs. The area needs to be boring and not have “reward” objects such as TVs, toys, or computers present.
How long should time outs last? Many follow conventional wisdom that when a child demonstrates unacceptable behavior, he or she should be separated from the activity for a number of minutes equal to his or her age.
Time outs should be used to help a child calm down and think about the behavior that got them there.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it's okay to give children as young as 1 a time-out – but it's best only as a last resort. Until he's a little older, your child may not have the self-control and reasoning skills to make a traditional time-out effective. Instead, think of a time-out as the "quiet time" your toddler needs to calm down and get his or her emotions under control. It’s also a time when parents can get their own emotions under control as well.
If you’re child is capable of understanding that certain behaviors are not going to be tolerated, and yet they are right in the middle of acting out one of those behaviors, that’s when a time out should be implemented.
You want your child to associate the behavior with the consequence. Calmly tell your child in no more than 10 words why they are in time out. As soon as he or she calms down, reward them with positive attention.
Children whine, cry and sulk – those are not reasons to put them in time out. Time outs are for intentional behavior such as biting or continuing to break rules.
What's helpful about a time-out is that it can defuse and redirect an escalating situation in an unemotional way. It lets you teach your child without setting a negative example, the way yelling or hitting does.
Parents tend to over explain a situation to a child, that’s why it’s important to keep the wording simple and direct. Over-talking the problem also tends to make the parent more agitated when the behavior doesn’t change. Being calm when putting your child in time out not only de-escalates the situation but also helps your child relax and think about their behavior. If you’re screaming and jerking your child to the time out area, they are more likely to be frightened and / or defiant than contemplative.
When the time-out is over, give your child a hug. A sign of affection demonstrates that he or she is still worthy of your love even though the behavior is unacceptable.
What if your child won’t stay in the time out zone? Toddlers are going to give you a challenge- that’s their nature. Power struggles can easily get out of hand. Until your toddler can appreciate the need to follow rules, limit the use of time-outs. Otherwise he or she won't understand why she's being corrected, and you may get frustrated and abandon the strategy prematurely.
You might actually consider “practicing” time outs with your child. Say your little one is revved up and on the edge of losing it- this might be a good time to grab a favorite book and sit down together. This is more like a “time-in” that associates positive attention to calming down before the behavior gets out of control.
When your child can follow simple directions and has a slightly longer attention span, they’re ready for a more traditional time-out. Between ages 2 and 3, you'll probably notice that he or she is better able to understand cause and effect.
But don't spring the tactic on them in a burst of frustration – a time-out works best if it's explained ahead of time. Use simple terms: "When you get too wild or act in a way that Mommy and Daddy don't think is a good idea, I will call, 'Time-out.' That means you will sit in this chair for a little while until you can calm yourself down."
Some parents find it useful to act this out or to use a doll or teddy bear to demonstrate taking a time-out.
Time outs are not miracle cures for unacceptable childhood behaviors. They are one tool parents can use to help educate their children about cause and effect. Parenting is a balancing act between positive reinforcement and consistent discipline.
When a child is very young, redirecting their attention to something more appropriate or fun may be the best approach. The key is to always keep your expectations realistic.
Sources: Paula Spencer, http://www.babycenter.com/0_time-outs-how-to-make-them-work-12-to-24-mo_12252.bc?page=1