The ins and outs of time out
By Joanna Meek, LPC
While there is not a single behavioral management tool that is effective for all children, no one can doubt the popularity of Time Out in modern parenting. However, despite its widespread use, there are always parents that believe Time Out is not a useful punishment for their child. Therefore, it is important to step back and review the purpose and process of Time Out.
First things first, it is necessary to understand the purpose of Time Out. Time Out is not a punishment. Its purpose is to decrease or interrupt a negative behavior. Time Out allows a child to step away, practice self-soothing skills, and change their behavior before returning to their regular activity.
It is important to remember that if the parent does not consider Time Out to be a punishment, neither will the child. In fact, some of the most effective Time Outs occur when a parent first notices a child revving up for unruly behavior. Remember, one of the primary jobs of a parent is to help a child recognize their own needs and determine how best to meet them, i.e. “Look’s like you’re getting overly excited, let’s take a moment and slow down.”
The process of a Time Out is relatively clear cut. Most professionals agree that one minute for each year of the child’s age is an appropriate length of time for a Time Out (so a four year old would be in Time Out for 4 minutes). Be aware that Time Outs longer than the recommended time can result in increased defiance, anger and resentfulness from the child. Setting a kitchen timer within view of the child can help them gauge how they are progressing and prevent a child from feeling they are being treated unfairly. Some elementary school age children respond positively to being allowed to assess the length of their Time Out and may be allowed to set the timer on their own.
The location where Time Out is taken should be away from household activity and used consistently. Good options are a chair in the hall or a step on the stairway. The location should never be intimidating, shaming, or threatening. Encourage your child to try out different self-soothing techniques such as music, hugging a teddy bear, drawing or reading in time out…remember this is not punishment, but an interruption of negative behavior.
Decide with your child what behaviors will lead to a Time Out and agree on the location, duration, and available options for self-soothing prior to its use. And then be consistent!
Remember, Time Out is about self-soothing and starting over. So, checking on the child frequently, engaging verbally, or giving feedback on their behavior is not appropriate during Time Out. However, it is important to have some follow-up with your child when you are both calm enough to discuss what behavior prompted the Time Out and how they could have behaved more appropriately. Praise your child when he is calm or makes a better choice following Time Out. And always remember to give your child daily “Time In,” by actively looking for positive behaviors to praise.
Originally featured on the MySA.com Health Channel.