KidTOPICS: Time-out Tips

"Time-out" is a behavioral modification technique used in toddlers and children to allow them to "learn" proper behavior. Time-out allows the young child to recoup their thoughts, review their feelings, and learn a way to deal with frustration that promotes for better compensation methods when dealing with stressful situations.

Time-out is a technique in dealing with toddlers and young children that pediatricians and child psychologist often recommend to parents. It not only offers a "break" for the child, but provides a time for even the most patient parent to control their own frustrations when dealing with a challenging situation in a young child.

Time-out strategies can start to be a useful tool at about 18 months of age. At this time, your child is learning right from wrong, understands the meaning of "no", and has behavior patterns that most specialists feel are "moldable." Time-out continues to work into the elementary school years. Each parent will have to make the decision when it becomes ineffective and when other forms of punishment (such as withdrawing specific privileges) become more effective.

Here is how it works:

When your child does something that is either mean to others, dangerous to himself or herself, or simply having a temper-tantrum for whatever reason, time-out is called for. It is a period of quiet punishment that the child will hopefully feel as though  he or she is "serving time" (as in a jail sentence) for bad behavior. It provides time for the child to reflect on what he or she did that was inappropriate. The child should feel as though he or she is "missing out" on the current activities of the household or daycare environment while in time-out.

Here are some basic tips on making time-out more effective for your child:

  The TIME:

A simple rule of thumb is to use one minute for every year of age of the child to start with (3 year olds get should be able to sit in time out for about 3 minutes). Adjust times as necessary to the abilities of your child or the degree of bad behavior.

It is helpful for the child to have some idea of a start and ending time to their time-out , so it is best to use a cooking timer (the wind up kind that goes "tick, tick") or a timer on the stove that rings at the end of the time set. This sets an sensory start and an end to the time-out session.

  The PLACE:

I always recommend a four-legged chair (not a rocking chair) that is used solely as "the time-out chair."

It is best to have the chair a little large for the child so that his or her feet are not allowed to touch the floor (they get the feeling of having a little less control if this is the case).

It is best to position the chair in a room next to or adjacent to the room of main activity in the house, so that the child can at least hear that he or she is missing out on the usual activities of the household.  Completely isolating them in another section of the house loses effectiveness as they lose the feeling of missing out on activities.

Do NOT put the chair so the child can see the activities or watch TV while in time-out. Remember that this is a time to "serve" and not to enjoy !

  The RULES:

One minute for each year of age is a simple starting point; customize it to the abilities and needs of the situation or of the child.

If you need to, especially initially, physically hold your child in the chair until the timing bell rings that time-out is over.

When your child is able to sit without being held in the chair for time-out, ignore your child and do NOT include him or her in any conversation or activities you are involved in. Make sure other children in your household also pay no attention to the child in time-out.  Just go on with activities as though the child was not present.

When time-out is over, have a BRIEF (few seconds only) one on one discussion with your child explaining why time-out was given and that you expect your child to behave better next time. Do not dwell on this, as your child has already "served" time for their offense - simply remind them briefly of the logic of why they received time-out.

After time-out is done, go back to normal routines.

Remember not to over use time-out sessions. They work best if done just a few times per day at the very most. Any more and parents are abusing their authority and time-out will no longer be a punishment. Reserve it for meanness to others, being dangerous to self or others, or bad tantrums.

If time-out sessions are being used too much, consider taking away the trigger that causes bad behavior (e.g., if Joey is getting into trouble by hitting his younger brother, keep them apart for a few hours; if Sandy dangerously keeps climbing onto Daddy’s dresser, close the door to Daddy’s room and keep her from getting to the dresser).

Remember, the "Terrible Twos" won’t last forever if you have a good way of dealing with bad behavior, dangerous behavior, or tantrums. Time out, if use correctly, is a very effective way to direct your child to good behavior. Hopefully, these tips will help.

Please, ask your own pediatrician if he or she has any other recommendations for TIME-OUT.



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