Today’s parents are almost universally familiar with the concept of a “time out” as a disciplinary technique, with most finding it to be quite effective in teaching kids to learn behavioural control. Children as young as 18 months can benefit from taking a few moments of quiet reflection giving them the opportunity to calm down before returning to play.
Consistency in Discipline
Like all disciplinary measures, time outs are only effective when used with consistency. Parents or other carers who threaten a time outs but fail to follow through when children misbehave have a negative, rather than a positive effect on the children’s behaviour, giving them the idea that they can misbehave without consequences.
Children need to learn that the adults in their lives set rules, expect them to be honoured, and will issue disciplinary measures if the rules are disregarded. Parents need to be firm but calm when punishing children for misdeeds, showing the kids that self-control is something to strive for.
Utilising Time Outs
Most advocates of time outs recommend that children be required to remain in the time out area one minute for each year of age. For example, five year olds would be expected to remain in time out, quietly, for a period of five minutes before being allowed to return to their activities. While very young children may have trouble remaining on a chair for two minutes, older children should be made to understand that the time will start only once they have quieted down, encouraging them to calm and quiet down quickly.
Choosing the designated area for time outs matters – it should be free of distractions and isolated from other activities. Good choices include a chair in the corner of a room or a spot on the floor, away from others who may still be engaged in active play.
Parents should not converse with children who are in a time out, instead allowing the child time to regain their composure and reflect on their behaviour. Another important component of the time out is the requirement that children should apologise for their misdeed before being released and the parent or carer should then provide the child with a hug, sending the child back to play with a good feeling.
One of the most beneficial aspects of utilising time outs is their ability to help children understand that their actions have consequences. Rather than offering multiple warnings, time outs should be given after only one warning so that children learn to control their behaviour and follow household rules, with consequences attached to non-compliance.
When giving instruction to children, parents should speak clearly and firmly, but with kindness. If the child fails to do as asked, a warning about consequences should be issued. “If you do not do as I asked, you will have to have a time out.” Once the time out habit has been established, one warning should be all that is required to get children to comply with the requests of adults. If children fail to do as they are asked, even after the warning, the adult should direct them to the time out area, with increased firmness in their voice. Again, it is important for the adult to remain calm – it does no good for both parties to be emotionally charged! After the child has remained calmly in the time out for the specified time frame, the adult can go to the child, ask for and accept an apology, offer a reminder about the desired behaviour, and release the child with a warm hug.
The goal of the time out, as well as other disciplinary measures used for children, should be to encourage desired behaviours by providing examples of firm kindness. It is never acceptable to hit, yell at, or belittle a child for misbehaving, which only gives them the impression that it is acceptable to hit, yell, and talk down to people, the very messages that most parents are trying to avoid. Disciplining with love and kindness shows children that they are deserving of respect, which will help them to grow into respectful and respectable people.