How to Use Time-out Successfully with Your Child

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.”

When Children are Out of Control, Only Four Things Need to Change

When Children are Out of Control, Only Four Things Need to Change

When parents complain that their young children are out of control, there are usually some very predictable things going on.

For instance, Camille, the mother of two boys, ages three and five, was a parent who said that her children were so bad they were making her crazy.

“They start fighting with each other as soon as they get up in the morning,” Camille said. “But things get worse as the day goes on. The boys throw food at mealtimes, demand different things to eat than what I’ve prepared, break their boys, refuse to help when it’s time to put their toys away, and they never go to bed on time.”

Camille added that by the time they do go to sleep at night, she is very angry with them, she feels like a bad mother, and she wonders what she is doing wrong.

Like other mothers and fathers who say their kids are out of control, Camille explains that she’s tried “everything.”

“I’ve tried being nice to them and tried using rewards,” she said. “I tried time-out and I even spanked them. But nothing works for more than a couple of days and then they are back to being disobedient, naughty children.”

There are several predictable elements in Camille’s situation which I see in other families with poorly behaved children. The common aspects are these:

      1. Children who have taken advantage of a parent who has tried to be loving and kind.

      2. Parents who have failed to be consistent in applying discipline.

      3. Parenting approaches in which rules and limits are not firmly enforced.

      4. A lack of structure and routine.

When parents recognize these elements and take measures to change them, they can gain control of their children and create a more normal home life. But to gain the control and begin to change their children’s behavior, they have to make sure they change the four elements given above.

The first step is to look at how the children have taken advantage of you. Often, I see that parents who have lost control have tried to be “nice and loving,” but instead become doormats for their children. Some of these parents seem to equate being loving with being passive and allowing the children to make too many decisions. To correct this, there must be a change in attitude and approach.

In this first step, you have to give yourself an attitude re-adjustment. By recognizing that your passivity and attempts to be nice have gotten you in this situation, you can reverse this by adopting more of a “get tough” attitude and demeanor. It doesn’t mean you are not loving, but it does mean you are tired of being pushed around and you are going to be less “nice” and take on more of a no-nonsense approach.

A good place to start is to write and print out a list of basic rules. Once you have done that, read them to the children and tell them that they must follow these rules or there will be consequences.

The second step is to expect that one (or all) of your children will test you almost immediately.  If you anticipate this, you can be ready. You must be ready to crack down on the first violator of a rule. This must be done quickly and firmly. The consequence may not matter, as long as it is not harsh or cruel. It could be time-out or a removal of a privileges or desired activities. And you are to carry this out with calmness and an attitude that tells your children that you are now in control – of them and yourself. The message should be clear: You are no longer Mr. or Mrs. Nice Guy. You are taking back control of the house.

The next step is to monitor their behavior and provide immediate consequences for all violations. That’s where the consistency comes in. You do not let things slide. There will be consequences for every rule violation.

Finally, don’t worry about your kids thinking that you are mean. If they have to think that at first, that’s to your advantage. When they obey the rules and do what you expect of them, then you can provide fun activities, hugs, and verbal praise. In the meantime, you are no longer going to give them the usual opportunities to take advantage of you.

Observe your Child to Learn how they are Developing Self-Control

Observe your Child to Learn how they are Developing Self-Control

The ultimate goal of all discipline is to teach children self-control. That’s what parental discipline and child guidance is all about: allowing our kids to grow up to be adults who can discipline themselves.

Whenever you’re faced with a misbehavior, you might ask yourself how you can enhance your child’s ability to regulate her own behavior? If you ask yourself this, two positive things may happen. One thing that could happen is that you give your child the opportunity to test their self-control, and the second thing that could happen is that you get a chance to evaluate yourself by seeing how well your child is learning to control their own behavior.

But the only way these two things can happen is if you don’t intervene immediately when a misbehavior begins. Therefore, you would be able to see whether your child can stop herself or whether she recognizes that she is misbehaving.

Suppose your three-year-old is playing a bit too roughly with the family cat. In an effort to protect the cat or teach your child a lesson, you might be inclined to get involved immediately. However, if you want to see how much control your son has or see whether he can reverse a behavior once begun, you can just observe. Often, children around this age will correct themselves and say aloud what he has often heard you say. For instance, a three-year-old might turn a somewhat aggressive mauling of the cat into a hug while saying, “Be nice to kitty.” If you had been too quick on the trigger, you would not have seen how much your toddler had learned and how his self-control was coming along.

Another example, could involve your teenager. If your adolescent daughter has had some difficulties managing her anger, you may be concerned that this could be a major problem when driving the family car. You may have thought that the last thing you need is an angry teenager behind the wheel of a car. So, the next time she gets angry, you might watch and see how this plays out.

Is she able to bring herself under control fairly quickly? Has she learned anything from you about a less explosive way to deal with her anger? By silently watching, you can gauge how much progress she has made and you can determine whether she is ready to use your car.

What I’m suggesting is that observing misbehaviors may be a way to figure out how much self-control your child is able to use. This could be termed “purposeful ignoring” and is done for a specific reason: To measure your child’s self-control.

However, there are other ways of determining your child’s ability to regulate his or her emotions and behavior. However, in addition to seeing how much progress they are making, these other discipline approaches encourage children to use their own self-control. When you intervene too quickly, you are not allowing your child to use their own self-control skills.

One of these other techniques is to give a signal. By signaling you give your child an opportunity to pull himself back together. With this technique, you do not ignore the child, but you let him know that you are aware of the situation and that you expect him to gain self-control on his own.

Most of us parents have used this technique at one time or another, and it often works well. For example, at a movie or a concert, you may have nudged your child with your elbow when they were whispering too loudly or making a noise that disturbed others. This signals to the child that you are aware of what they are doing and that you want her to stop on their own.

Some parents use prearranged signals (such as a particular hand gesture or even a particular word) to alert a child that they should regulate their behavior. Another signal, again that most of have used, is to say our child’s name, add their middle name, or say their name with an unmistakable tone. This is a clear signal that they need to alter their behavior.

Giving signals can be very effective if the misbehavior is just beginning and if your child is still in control and is capable of pulling themselves together. Typically, these techniques should be used before a child is out of control and before the problem behavior becomes too serious.

How Should a Stepfather Handle his Defiant Stepdaughter?

How Should a Stepfather Handle his Defiant Stepdaughter?


John has a 12-year-old stepdaughter. But John is concerned that his stepdaughter, Olivia, has recently become defiant with him and talks back when he asks her to do things.

“For instance, when I tell Olivia it’s time to go to bed or that the dishes need to be put in the dishwasher,” John said, “ she will straight up tell me no.”

John said that because he and his wife work different shifts, he and Olivia are home alone frequently and he has to make her do things.

“But I don’t believe in spanking a child of her age and I will not physically force her to do things — like drag her to her room for bedtime,” John said.  “What should I do?  I don’t want her to feel she gets away with things, but at the same time I would like for her and me to get along.”

He wonders if it would be easier to just ignore Olivia and let her do what she wants instead of arguing.

John has never had children of his own, although he has helped raise Olivia since she was seven. What he doesn’t understand is that as many children move into adolescence they become more sassy, defiant, and oppositional. This may be especially true with a stepparent who tries to use discipline.

However, since he spends so much time with his stepdaughter, there are bound to be some clashes. It is important that he accept that it is inevitable in any relationship with a teen that there will be conflicts. Even if John were Olivia’s biological father, the same conflicts could be taking place.

It is also important for John – and for you if you are a stepparent in a similar situation — to avoid power struggles with Olivia. You can’t force any teen to do what they choose not to do. Therefore, it’s important to win their cooperation. Establishing a better relationship and winning their cooperation relies on the absence of power struggles.

Often to avoid these battles of wills, you may need to alter how you ask a teen to do things. Furthermore, you should also find alternative ways to respond to their defiance, sassiness, and flippancy.

For example, when it is time for your stepdaughter to go to bed, you could say, “I need you to go to bed soon.” In other words, when you want her to do something, instead of giving an order (“Go to bed”), tell her what you need or what you’d like (“I’d like you to go to bed”). And don’t put a time limit on it. Don’t say, “Go to bed now” or “You have to be in bed at nine o’clock.” Giving an order or a command simply sets up rebellion and defiance.

Also, when she says no or tells you, “I’m not doing that,” you need to be able to either ignore that or to say something which avoids the power struggle. For instance, if she says, “I’m not going to bed; it’s too early,” you can respond, “I know you don’t want to go to bed because it’s too early, but that’s what I want you to do.”

This kind of response indicates you understand her position and you are not really telling her what to do. Instead, you’re letting her know what you’d like her to do. That gives her an out. She still might refuse, but it puts the conversation on a different level if she is responding to something you’d like versus something you are telling her she must do.

If like John, you spend a great deal of time with a stepson or stepdaughter who is now an adolescent, you will be responsible for some of their life and you must provide some guidance. Therefore, you can’t just let them do what they want in order to avoid conflict. At the same time, it’s not about forcing them to do things. As kids become teenager, compromise and negotiation take on a greater role.


Is the Ability to be Giving and Helpful to Others inborn in Children?

Is the Ability to be Giving and Helpful to Others inborn in Children?

          You probably want your child to grow up to be altruistic, right? That is, you very likelywould want your son or daughter to care for others or want to help others.

          Altruism is defined by some child development psychologists as giving to another at a cost to oneself. In other words, the altruistic child gives something of themselves – a helping hand, a gift, or comfort – when there is nothing particularly to be gained from this gesture.

          Here are some examples in young children:

          Amanda, age three, was watching a friend play with blocks at daycare. When her friend dropped a block, Amanda instinctively picked it up and handed it to her friend.

          When four-year-old Kyle heard his six-year-old brother crying, he went to see what was wrong. Kyle quickly learned that his brother was crying because he couldn’t go outside to play. Kyle went to his own bedroom, got a favorite book, and brought it back to his brother. “Maybe you can read this book,” Kyle said. Kyle understood that by giving his brother a book to read that his brother might feel better.

          Samantha, two, noticed her mother being sad and quiet one day. She sidled up to her mother and began rubbing her hands. Samantha at her young age seemed to realize that by giving something to her mother – for instance, a hand rub – it would help her mother feel better.

          Widely recognized and studied by psychologists, altruism has been examined over several decades. One of the questions researchers have tried to answer is whether altruistic motives are inborn or taught by parents and teachers. Are children born with the trait of being altruistic (or, on the other hand, selfish) or do they learn to be giving (or withholding) to others from their parents?

          Recent researchers seem to think that because altruism is evident in children even under the age of two years that it is a trait that is there from the beginning of their lives. However, they also believe that parental role modeling can play an important role in fostering altruism, even in children who exhibit traits of altruism literally from birth.

          The work of Felix Warneken at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has been reported in Science. In his studies with toddlers, Warneken, who is now a professor at Harvard University, developed situations where he needed help. What he found was that virtually every toddler he studied helped out spontaneously without prompting or coaching.

          Warneken went on to replicate his research findings with even younger toddlers. What he found was that children barely out of infancy could distinguish between situations where help was or wasn’t needed. This showed that young children weren’t just automatically helpful; someone actually had to need their help before the altruistic side of them kicked in.

          Like other psychologists who have studied altruism in children, Warneken believes that parents and teachers can build upon whatever altruistic and prosocial tendencies are inborn.

          Children typically look at what their parents do and imitate them if there is a good relationship between parent and child. Nancy Eisenberg and Paul Mussen, authors of the book The Roots of Prosocial Behavior in Childhood, state that parents of altruistic children are nurturant and supportive, model altruism, and create opportunities for their children to show kindness and giving to others.

          Eisenberg, who is Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, has tracked a group of 32 children from preschool into adulthood. She’s found evidence that some children just seem to have altruistic personalities. However, she also has learned that children who acted in an altruistic manner early in childhood continued to show such behavior into adulthood. But she also concludes that you can enhance altruism in your child by talking about the effects of their actions on others and by establishing clear expectations for your child about consistently showing caring behaviors to other people.

          As it turns out, one of the important things you can do with your toddler is to encourage them to play with others. In play, they can learn such prosocial behaviors as sharing, cooperation, and helping.