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Are "Time-Outs" Really an Effective Child Discipline Technique?

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Time-outs can be an effective form of child discipline.

Time-outs can be an effective form of child discipline.

Michael Hitoshi
Question: Are "Time-Outs" Really an Effective Child Discipline Technique?
Everything I read tells me the best child discipline method is to put my preschooler in a "time-out." And while the premise sounds like it should work, it seems to have no effect on my preschooler. My 3-year-old son will either yell the whole time he's in a time-out or he won't stay put. Am I doing it wrong? Should I switch child discipline techniques?
Answer:

Time-outs can be an incredibly effective tool in a parent's child discipline arsenal. The idea behind it is simple. If your child begins to behave badly -- whether it is not sharing, throwing a temper tantrum, fighting with a sibling or some other form of poor conduct, you remove the child from the situation, put them in a quiet place away from the action and give them some time to think about their misdeeds. On paper time-outs sound flawless, but sometimes the execution and the situation complicate matters. Here's how to use this popular child discipline tactic so it works.

Understand the idea behind the time-out. This method of child discipline is simply to give your child a chance to cool down and think about what he has done wrong. It's not intended to scare him, just remove him from the situation.

Be consistent and timely. Preschoolers are definitely of the "right here, right now" type of personality so it does no good to put them in a time out for something they did five hours or even five minutes ago. If you are strolling around the mall and your little one refuses to hold your hand or keeps running away from you, find a quiet spot right where you are and explain that you are putting her in a time-out because she isn't listening. And then stick with it. Don't keep threatening to do it, don't say you are going to do it when you get home. The idea is to teach your child that bad behavior now equals a consequence now.

Choose a quiet spot. It might be tempting to have your time-out spot be in your child's bedroom, but that doesn't always work -- there are too many distractions. The best time-out spot is usually a chair or a beanbag in a quiet corner, away from everything, but in a location where you can see him.

Don't worry about the each year equals one minute rule. Preschoolers, especially younger ones, cannot sit still for very long. So as soon as you feel that your little one has settled down and is calm, it's OK to let them leave the time-out area.

You may have to take a time-out too. If your child keeps getting up out of the time-out, give her two warnings, remind her that she is to stay in one spot and remain there until you say it is OK to get up. If she still doesn't listen, place her in your lap and gently but firmly hold her until she is calm. Don't yell or engage her, in fact it is best if you stay unruffled and quiet. Note: do not use physical force to get your child to stay in a time-out.

Don't expect your child to be happy about taking a time-out. Some kids spend their time-out period yelling and shouting. Part of the reason why your child is so upset is because they have emotions that they do not yet know how to control. Don't fight with your child to stay quiet while they are in a time-out. For the most part, kids will calm down on their own. If she doesn't, that's OK. The important thing to look for is, once the time-out is finished, has her behavior improved?

Don't overuse the technique. Many parents say they feel like their kids spend all day in time-out. If you feel like your child is sitting in the time-out corner too often, listen to those instincts. There's a difference between a child behaving badly and a little one being curious and inquisitive. The best times to use a time-out are when your child clearly needs a break from the action, when it seems like their emotions are about to take over.

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