Do “Time out’s” really work?
by Patricia Adamo, M.A., L.M.H.C.
Over the years I have met with parents who have made an appointment for an unruly child in their household. When they arrive, they appear frustrated, out of breath, anxious, and confused.
The child, on the other hand, seems happy, hyper, and in control of the parent. After listening for about ten minutes, it is quite clear that Mom, or Dad, are at their wit’s end, have tried “everything” to control their child, and have gotten nowhere.
“I’ve Tried Everything”
When asked to describe “everything”, they invariably talk about “time out”. What is interesting, however, is that most parents have absolutely no idea how to use a timeout in the manner in which it was intended.
They usually place the offending child in “their” room, with no T.V., or Play Station, etc., close the door, and leave them alone for about a half-hour to an hour. Of course, this doesn’t work. One of the reasons it doesn’t work is that the child is completely comfortable in their room even without T.V. How can a timeout be effective if it’s comfortable to the child?
To understand how to make timeout effective, one needs to understand that young children have very short attention spans. Further, they are very easily stimulated by just about everything they see around them. For timeout to be effective, it needs to be short, and the child cannot perceive it as fun, or a game of some sort.
I ask parents to try to use a blank expression, and a firm tone of voice when speaking to the child about the impending punishment. It is important that the child understand the parent is in control. ( A parent who is turning purple, dizzy with rage, and screaming is obviously not in control. ) The parent needs to explain, in very simple terms, what the child has done to earn a punishment. Children are concrete thinkers, so a short, black and white explanation works best.
For example I have asked you not to bite your sister. You have bitten her again and hurt her. You need to go into timeout for 10 minutes.
Using Time Out Correctly
Have a small chair facing a corner, with no visual stimulation available, and no audio stimulation. Have a timer. Sit the child in the chair and set the timer for 10 minutes. Explain to the child that they will sit in the chair until the timer rings.
Be aware that the child will test your resolve. They may get up, or scream, or fall on the floor in a tantrum. But, you are the parent. You are the “big person”. Put the child back into the chair until they see you mean business.
If the child falls on the floor, holds breath, or screams, turn your eyes from him, or her. They can’t be successful at this ploy with no audience. They will give it up if you are consistent.
The key to discipline for children of all ages is consistency.
And that means that Mom, Dad, Grandparents, babysitter, all employ the same exact technique that you have decided will be used with your child.
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