When it comes to disciplining young children these days, many families turn to time-outs. Here are some strategies and suggestions for making time-outs an effective tool.
A time-out is a period during which a child is removed from the troublesome situation or temptation. It's his chance to calm down, regroup, remember what is expected of him, and get organized again. If the time-out creates more attention, energy, upset, or interaction with the parent or care provider, it won't work.
During a time-out, the child does not get to interact with the parent or care provider. A time-out is meant to be a minor form of isolation that says, in effect, "When you do this, you can't be a part of things."
In order for time-outs to work, you need to establish a time-out pattern. This requires an initial investment of time that most parents find worthwhile. Resetting a child's expectations is harder than getting it right the first time, but it's still worth the time and energy.
Finally, time-outs work best starting when children are 18 to 24 months old and until they're about 5. Although every child is different, children younger than that don't really "get it," and older kids generally need more sophisticated ways to learn how to behave well.
Setting Up a Time-out
Place a chair in a safe but boring spot, such as the corner of a dining room or a rarely used entrance area. Be sure the place is away from care providers and the "scene of the crime." Being in the middle of things provides too much opportunity for compounding the problem with teasing and provocative behavior.
Be sure the time-out location is a safe place where the child can be left alone without close supervision. For example, the top of a staircase, a spot near breakable items, and a location next to a door that he can open are all NOT the places to pick.
Conducting a Time-out
Warn first. After two warnings about the forbidden behavior, announce, "Okay, it's time for a time-out." Nothing more. Pick up the child and place him in the time-out seat.
Set a timer. The duration should be about one minute per year of the child's age.
Be firm. If the child gets up before the timer goes off, simply put him back in the chair and reset the timer. Don't say anything and don’t give in.
Forgive and forget. When the timer goes off, say, "It's all done now," give him a hug, and leave it at that. Don't mention the issue again. Give him something new to do, a positive alternative to the forbidden activity.
Common Time-out Pitfalls
The parent talks too much. This only confuses the child, adds to the tension, and upsets everyone. A simple statement of the transgression when the "crime" is committed, such as "You hit your sister again, followed by "It's time for a time-out," is enough.
The time-out results in too much attention. If a time-out provides more attention to the child than she receives when she's behaving well, she'll continue to draw your attention with the provocative behavior.
The parent is too upset. If you feel out of control, you won't be able to help your child learn. Take a few seconds or minutes to calm down. Go back to your child, state the reason for the time-out, and put him in time-out.
If your child is very frantic or upset, he won't be able to learn from the time-out. Instead, hold him silently, wait until the crying turns angry rather than frantic, and then begin the time-out.
If a child is ill, stressed, or overly tired, very little learning will take place, and a time-out may deplete him even more. In this case, just get him away from the trouble and refuel with whatever is needed — a hug, a snack, a trip to the car away from a hectic store, or a nap.