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Your Family - Using time-outs effectively

Our family expert explains the most effective ways to punish children with time-outs.

ISSUE: The time-out is a common tool used by parents for child discipline, but sometimes they don’t work as well as we hope.  There are some tips for making sure that time-outs are effective in bringing about the behavior we want to see in our child.

 

Q: First, what is a time-out?

 

A: A time-out involves the parent removing a child who is misbehaving to a designated spot where the child is isolated from others.  It provides a cooling off period for both the child and the parent, and is most effective when the child is being aggressive, throwing a tantrum or is directly disobeying the parent.

 

Q: Are time-outs effective for children of any age?

 

A: They are most effective for children between the ages of three and nine or ten.  For older children, other forms of discipline are more appropriate, such as the loss of privileges as a consequence of bad behavior.

 

Q: What are some tips for making sure that a time-out is effective?

 

A:

  1. Choose the right spot: The area you choose for your child’s time-out should be safe and free from distractions such as toys, TV, etc.  The child should not receive attention from you or anyone else when he or she is in time-out.

 

  1. Set a time limit: A good rule of thumb for how long a time-out should last is one minute for every year of the child’s age.  Tell your child how long the time-out will be and set a timer so both you and the child know when the time-out is over.  If your child continues his or her bad behavior during the time-out, you can extend the length until the child sits quietly for at least one minute.

 

  1. Follow through: Don’t threaten a time-out without actually following through. And once you put your child in a time-out, don’t let them out early.  Your child has to know that you mean what you say.

 

  1. Talk with your child after the time-out: While a time-out can help our child learn what behavior we disapprove of, it is just as important that they understand what behavior we want to see from them.  So after the time out is over, talk with them about what they did wrong but also about what behavior you expect of them, being as specific as possible.  For example, if our child receives a time-out for hitting his sister because she took one of his toys, after the time-out we should talk about other options for how he should respond when that happens, such as  share the toy with her for a while, or ask her to return the toy, or tell mom or dad.
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