Growing up, I was the “good kid.” My younger brother, Danny, on the other hand, was a little more rambunctious. He was never a bad kid — he would never purposefully break rules or do something “bad” with any sort of malicious intent — he was just more energetic, naturally curious, and sensitive than I was. His natural disposition resulted in him doing things or reacting in ways that would get him into trouble, which would sometimes mean time-outs. As a kid, I saw this as basically prison for my little brother, but looking back, it was really just a minute or two for him to calm down, alleviate stress, and evaluate what he’s feeling and how his actions impacted his situation.
However, over 85% of parents use time-out incorrectly, meaning that they use it as a form of punishment, negotiate the terms of the time-out with their child, make the time-out too long, or are not consistent enough for the time-out to have any sort of positive impact. In fact, using time-outs wrong can actually harm children.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some time-out tips to help alleviate stress for both you and your child for when the time (out) comes!
What is Time-Out?
Time-out is most effective when used as a form of positive reinforcement. It has been used to discipline children since the term was first used by Dr. Arthur Staats in the 1950s and is defined as “a procedure in which a child is placed in a different, less-rewarding situation or setting whenever he or she engages in undesirable or inappropriate behaviors.” Just as the name suggests, time out from positive reinforcement can only work when there is an environment in which positive reinforcement is already being used – praise, physical attention, activities, and games. This allows for the contrast between time-out and “time in” to be apparent to the child.
Researchers suggest that time-outs should start at age 2. If implemented any earlier, your child could feel frustrated, confused, and abandoned as they can’t connect their actions to your reaction quite yet. The CDC recommends the following steps to put your child in time-out:
- Check the behavior and give a warning – If your child is misbehaving or acting out, give them one (and ONLY one) time-out warning in a calm voice. Say explicitly that time-out is the consequence (not punishment!) if they don’t listen.
- Tell your child why – Tell your child why they are going into time-out in simple terms — no need for a lengthy explanation. Again, say this only once in a calm, clear voice. Never yell, argue, or scold your child when telling them why they’re in time-out. In addition, do not talk to them on the way to the time-out spot.
- Have your child sit in time-out – Have your child go to their time-out spot (you may have to physically walk or carry them there) and have them sit for 2-5 minutes. A good rule of thumb is one minute for every year, so a 2-year old would get a 2 minute time-out. During these few minutes no one is allowed to talk to or play with your child, and your child is not permitted to play with toys or do other activities either. If your child leaves time-out, you will have to put them back in their spot, which may be frustrating in the beginning as it can happen several times, but it is vital to be consistent and calm every time.
- End time-out – Before time-out ends, listen for silence. If your child is calm and quiet for 5 seconds or more towards the end of the time-out, they may go. This is a good opportunity to reiterate the rules and expectations in a positive way. If your child is still not listening or acting out, repeat the time-out.
- Praise the next good thing your child does – As we mentioned earlier, time-out doesn’t work unless there’s a “time in” for your child, which requires lots of praise. Make sure you offer up enthusiastic praise for their next accomplishment so that they want to do the right thing and listen!
Of course, if you are a parent or caretaker, these rules are simple to read and understand, but implementation is a whole other ball game when it comes to putting a 2-year old in time-out for the first time. Luckily, there are a ton of tips and tricks out there to help alleviate stress surrounding time-out for both you and your child. So, if you’re getting ready to start using time-outs for the first time, or if you’ve been struggling to get them to work for weeks now, give these tips a try.
Keep Calm – It is imperative that you remain calm when putting your child in time-out, even if they are having a full on meltdown. Children are learning self-control and regulation through their interactions with others, especially parents, so becoming loud and angry only teaches them dysregulated behavior to model after.
Time-Out Spots – Make sure you pick the right spot for time-outs! The time-out spot should be comfortable, but have little to no distractions or positive reinforcements — people, activities, toys, TV, etc. This should be an obvious contrast to your child’s regular “time in”.
Consistency is Key – A lot of being a parent is consistency, so it should be no surprise that for time-outs to be successful, you need to be consistent there too. You have to be consistent in the rules surrounding time-out (why children are put there, how long, and not letting them negotiate or leave time-out early), consistent in your voice and language, and consistent in their “time in “ environment.
Teaching Self-Soothing Tactics – While your child is in time-out, they are going to be upset, which will likely make disciplining them even more difficult. Try teaching them self-soothing strategies before getting in trouble, like HAPPÉ Life’s EFT Tapping method, to help them discover ways they can help themselves calm down and alleviate stress.
While time-out can be stressful for both you and your child, it can be an effective discipline tool to alleviate stress when used correctly. While it is not the only method or tool that should be used in raising children, it has been proven to be effective by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, when performed calmly and consistently.
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