How to Use Time-out Successfully with Your Child
If you want to use time-out with your child, what do you do if he cries, screams, or refuses to stay in the time-out chair?
Many parents encounter these kinds of problems when attempting to use time-out. A father I recently talked to said that when his son refuses to go quietly and sit in the designated time-out chair, they end up having a battle that causes an escalation of problems.
“What started out as a rather simple consequence for a misbehavior becomes a terrific power struggle,” this father of a four-year-old said. “I don’t think anything positive is accomplished.”
Another father said he would physically hold his child in time-out. “The only problem with this,” he said, “was that I had to threaten or add another punishment and I didn’t feel good about that.”
How should you handle time-out so it accomplishes what you want?
There are several guidelines I developed over the years as I worked with parents and their young children and these guidelines can be helpful to any parent wishing to use time-out.
First, time-out should be used for somewhat more serious misbehaviors. The reason for this is that if you try to use time-out for too many rule infractions, you run the risk of using time-out too often. Any punishment or negative consequences used too frequently will lose its effectiveness.
Second, young children should be trained to use time-out. How do children know how they should respond to time-out? They don’t unless they are told – and taught. I taught parents to practice time-out with their child before there was a problem or before it was to be used in a real situation. By explaining what time-out is and showing a child what was expected during time-out, the results were much more successful for parents. By having time-out rehearsals, children got to sit in the time-out chair for a short period of time and parents could hand out positive reinforcement for this rehearsal.
Third, designate a chair and a place for time-out that does not put the child at risk for creating new problems. For example, sending an angry child to their room, may lead to the child angrily destroying objects or trashing their room. A quiet place or a small area with few distractions and without anything they can destroy works better.
Fourth, if the child runs around, screams, or refuses to go to time-out, remain calm. And avoid a physical battle with your child. Let her run around or avoid the chair, but eventually (since you shouldn’t allow them to do anything fun or interesting in the meantime), they have to go to time-out and serve their time. I always found that when children figured out that they could not avoid time-out and that their parent was not going to chase them or engage in a power struggle, that ultimately they learned it was better to serve the time and get it over with.
Fifth, the time the child stays in time-out is not important. As with almost any negative consequence, the fact that there was a consequence is often much more important than the type or duration of the consequence. For a child who is resistant to time-out, it’s better –at least in the beginning of using time-out – to make it short and successful. That is, get your child in and out of time-out quickly so that you can praise or give attention to the cooperation she displayed.
Finally, after time-out is over, make sure there is a brief discussion of why the child was placed in time-out. For example, asking a child why he was in time-out can help you determine if the time-out helped to teach a lesson. If your child doesn’t know or has forgotten, then your job is to explain it to her.
You could say, for instance, “The reason you had to sit in the time-out chair was because you hit your sister. I don’t like it when you hurt your sister. I want you to remember to be kind to her.”