“I’ve tried time outs and they’re worthless.”
This might be how you feel about the principle of time out. So many of my patients try and fail to start this type of technique, so I’m here to walk you through the “ideal” use of the “time out“ and to discuss some common pitfalls people bring with them into my clinic.
This is a 2 part article on time-outs, so stay on the lookout 👀
Disclaimer: Time outs aren’t perfect but are a well-studied method for discipline. Give it a go!
Why Time Out?
Despite what you may have heard, time outs are incredibly effective. They are most effective in the preschool years, which is a particularly troubling time as kids begin to learn to push boundaries and experiment with independence.
Time outs are a more structured variation on simply removing your child from troubling behavior. They are more effective long term than other disciplinary methods such as spanking, which can increase aggression and lack of emotional control in developing children. By setting clear expectations around when and how time out is used, kids begin to see causality over time. It’s structure and standardization reduces the “blow ups” that often occur when we throw our toddlers a curve ball. For these reasons and more, I recommend it as first line behavior modification for parents with difficult toddlers.
3 Pearls of Time Outs
1) Consistency. It is crucial to have everyone involved in parenting the child on board and on the same page. If even one of the parents isn’t employing the technique, the effectiveness goes down significantly. Consistency also applies to the employment of the time out. If you see the behavior you are targeting happening, give one warning- only one. Multiple warnings can turn it into a game of “how far can I push them?” Other factors where consistency is vital involves the location. Choosing a spot in front of the TV won’t be very effective. Pick a place like a chair in the corner, or a bench in the foyer and stick with it.
2) When to use it. Your kids should know ahead of time what type of behaviors deserve a time-out. Typically, these are disruptive behaviors in the home such as hitting, biting, throwing things, or anything else that you (as the parents) deem to be “wrong”. Activities such as tantrums aren’t inherently wrong, just annoying attention-seeking behaviors that are best treated by placing the child in a safe environment and ignoring them. Yes, ignoring them (say what??!!)
3) Keeping it developmentally appropriate. You wouldn’t expect your 3-year-old to sit still for 30 minutes, would you? Establishing duration is important. Generally, I tell families to have a time out duration equal their age in years (in minutes). Others will add one to their age. For incredibly stubborn children, you may need to add two to their age. Whatever you decide, make sure you aren’t expecting too much of your child and make sure it’s clear how long it will be beforehand.
Trust me, time outs can be effective but they take work on both ends. Have you tried and failed at them yourself? Have you given up?
Stay tuned for the next post on common issues I hear about when parents decide to start doing time outs later this week, and comment below on your experience with Time Outs. I’d love to hear from you, and I’m sure other parents would too!