Time out is one of the best and most powerful discipline tools in the book and a great parenting technique if used properly. I must stress how important it is to remember that this is a method of teaching your child how you wish him to behave and not to be thought of as a punishment! It is unhealthy to think in terms of handing out punishment for your child's “bad behaviour” and you should always refer to any consequence for negative behaviour as just that - a consequence! (Please do not call it “the naughty step”!) When children feel punished they can often behave just as bad or even worse as a way of rebelling against a parent’s obvious will and control. We must be careful to carry out time out in a calm manner and not let our anger come across as if we are saying "There! See what happens when you don't do as you're told!!" Try to remember it is a tool for teaching and should never antagonise or make the child feel threatened. Rough handling can often happen when parents are so cross with their child that it starts to show, but it must be avoided at all costs. The aim of time out when carried out properly is to give a clear message behave inappropriately and you will be ignored. This is a valuable and healthy lesson as in life being ignored is often the natural consequence for behaving badly towards others.
Time out can be used from the age of about 18 months. It involves calmly removing the child from the situation or problem. While they are standing facing the wall in the corner, or sitting on the stair or chair you should ignore him completely for 1 minute for every year of his life (e.g. 5 mins for a 5 year old), but always making sure he is safe. It must be somewhere away from everyone and preferably quiet and as boring as possible. You must ignore him while the time out is going on; do not speak to him or look at him! If you engage in an argument he has won. He's got your attention, and isn't that most often the reason for the misbehaviour in the first place? Try to give the impression that it is of no importance to you that he is in time out and it is only he who is having to put up with the effects of his actions.
We all hate to be ignored. It is infinitely more effective to ignore someone to show your displeasure than shout and cause resentment. Not only will shouting cause anger, resentment and hurt all round and will probably end up in an argument but shouting at your child is actually giving him attention. It is actually a pay off for children behaving badly believe it or not, and this is the reason why ignoring and time out works so well!
Remember to start by calmly getting down to your child's eye level to tell him why he is getting time out and do not give in if he now promises to comply. Time out is a consequence for a negative behaviour and must be carried out once it has started. Your child will soon pick up that there is simply no point in acting like this because he is the only one who suffers. If he leaves time out his time will start again, so tell him this. AND SET A TIMER! What feels like 4 minutes to you might only be 1 so remember to look at the time or better still set a timer (there's often one on your mobile/cell phone). It also makes the process crystal clear and places some of the responsibility on the timer rather than just on you. Let the timer be the bad guy!
Don't let your child come away from the wall, step or chair etc. until he has had the full time. If he is still crying, screaming or having a tantrum when the time out finishes, get down to eye level with your child and say "Your time out is finished, you got time out for... (fill in the reason here) but if you've not managed to calm down yet you will need to stay here until you do". Go back periodically to ask if he’s ready to calm down or if he needs help to calm down with a cuddle perhaps (if cuddling isn’t helping and your child continues to scream, cry or tantrum, leave him in time out again till he calms down, don’t give attention for behaviour you don’t want to see). If the time out was given because your child wasn't listening or wasn't following your instruction, then he should now do whatever it was that you asked him to do. Again say "You got a time out because you weren't listening but now I need you to (fill in request here)" But if he received time out for a negative behaviour then he should now be asked to apologise for his mischief. It is essential to the learning process to explain in a firm but calm manner why he was given a time out but keep it short and clear, don’t elaborate. Forgive him, and don't mention it again. Never bear a grudge with children… It's very damaging to their self-esteem.
Time out can be enforced anywhere! Don't be embarrassed if you're out and about, and you need to put your child in the corner, on a chair, sit him on the stairs or anywhere else handy in order to use time out. It must be done, as you must be consistent, and if people look at you, it's usually with admiration for your great parenting skills (so long as your staying calm!). They're probably thinking that they wish they had the courage and strength to do it. You will be the one who reaps the rewards when your child stops misbehaving and becomes a more calm, kind child who is interested in more, is more respectful and loves to learn new things. If your child knows that you won't implement time out when you're out, then he will play up. Find a quiet corner away from everyone, and turn him to the wall where there is nothing to distract him. Stand him at the side of a corridor etc. and stay with him, your back facing him, for 2 or 3 minutes not speaking at all until he has calmed down or you think he is ready to apologise and behave himself.
I'll give you an example of a time when I needed to use time out when out. In a previous job when my youngest charge was 2 she was very headstrong and would always object to group activities at our kiddie gym class group. But every time she started to squirm out of my arms and scream with stubborn rebelliousness, I would say, “No! If your not going to do it properly you can sit at the side until you can!” Then I would sit her on the bench at the side of the hall and soon enough she would stop screaming and join in perfectly, for the rest of the session, enjoying herself to boot. This went on for a few weeks (gym class was once a week) but soon enough she knew that she wasn't getting anywhere with all her objections and started to join in beautifully. I must say that she wasn't the only one in this age range who behaved like this, but after she had calmed down she enjoyed the class far more than the children who had been allowed to carry on with their behaviour. Consequently she learned more and loved her lessons, listening, laughing and giggling every time.
Also I must point out that you should not simply ignore your child when he's behaving negatively! It must be done in a controlled or obvious manner (other methods of ignoring are discussed in the discipline ebook and the ultimate parenting guide) and he must know what's going on so that he can see the consequences of his actions. After all that's what parenting is all about, teaching our children that in life we must be responsible for our actions! Your child knows where he stands and that is great, because most of your time together can be spent having fun!
Remember if you are having trouble with your child’s behaviour and you feel you could benefit from some expert help, or you want to know more about time-out including what to do if your child refuses to stay in time-out, and other fabulous techniques, including ones unique to the parenting system, then get in touch. Simply choose a service from the Services page . Also it often isn’t enough to simply use time-out on it’s own and should be used in conjunction with other positive parenting techniques. Take a look at the e-books or sign up for some support or an The Parent Guru parenting program today!