Top Tips for Time-Out

Raising a child can be tough, especially when he or she is not following instructions or arguing with a sibling. Separating your child from the situation is a good solution, giving the child time to calm down and think. The key to effective use of “time out” is to make sure that the discipline is right for the age of your child and your child is not completely isolated.

For the very young child

Children under the age of two have very short attention spans yet they can easily become upset when things don’t go their way. With young children, it’s best that you both take a time-out together. Using a soothing voice tell your child that you’re both going to take a minute to read a book together until he or she is calmer.

Once your child is two, you will notice that he or she has a longer attention span. At this age, you can begin having your toddler just put his or her head down, in the same room you are in, for no more than 2 minutes. Two minutes is a long time for a toddler, you may need to start with less time just to give him or her a break from the action.

Don’t expect instant results. This is a learning process for your child as much as it is for you. Be flexible with how you use time out. A special toy for quiet time only could be a good way to break up a tantrum. A special book in a special beanbag chair could be just as effective. The goal is to help your child calm down in a way that works for everyone.

As your child gets older

When your child is three years old, you can try a more traditional approach. Give a warning in a calm voice then, if your child is still misbehaving, have him or her to sit in a “thinking chair” near you for a few minutes. Be sure to tell your child, calmly, why you are asking them to sit and think.

Another idea, if you have children fighting over a toy or book, is to put the toy itself in time out. By putting the toy up, you are sending the same message, “If you are not sharing, you can’t play with it.”

Recently, several organizations have questioned whether the name “time out” is a good idea. It’s important that your child knows you are still nearby. Sending an upset child to an isolated room is not calming. Instead, the suggestion is to call this type of discipline a “time in.” Because you are still including your child by having them near, but not allowing them to participate.

A different approach

Another approach that can work in conjunction with or instead of time out is 1, 2, 3 Magic. This type of discipline allows your child an opportunity to cease the disruptive behavior and get him or herself under control. Here, briefly, is the way it works:

At the first sign of inappropriate behavior, you would count 1, give 5 to 10 seconds for your child to self-correct. If your child continues, announce “that’s 2” and give 5 to 10 seconds more for self-correction. If your child is still being disruptive, you would then announce, “that’s 3 – take 5” and then follow the time out advice above. Don’t discuss the problem between counting, don’t participate in an argument with the child, simply count.

By remaining unemotional and objective, simply counting, you’ll take back control of the situation. Remember to follow through calmly each time and your child will soon realize the consequences and stop misbehaving and self-correct before you get to 3. For more information about this method, visit the author’s website.

It isn’t easy or fun having to discipline a child. But, children behave best when they know the rules and receive consistent reinforcement when they disobey. Calm discipline in the face of disobedience will help you remain in control of the situation. 

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