Time Outs that Work!

little guy on stoolOne of the most popular forms of consequences that parents use for childhood misbehavior is the ubiquitous Time Out. Depending on how it is used, it can be an extremely effective or ineffective intervention. Probably the most common reason for failure of Time Outs lies in the mistaken belief that “time” is the most important element. The typical Time Out goes something like this: Johnny is re-directed to do some thing, he does not listen or comply. We remind him a few more times until finally telling him to “go to Time Out.” He sits there for several minutes and then comes out and it’s over. He has served his sentence, so to speak.

What does this really teach Johnny? Probably not much. In fact, it may just teach him to barter misbehavior for a consequence that he doesn’t experience as that negative. To effectively use Time Out as a positive shaper of behavior, we must, again, start with an understanding that “time” is the least important element. Frankly, it does not matter how long or short the duration of the Time Out is.

The most important factor with Time Out should be this: upon leaving Time Out, the child is required to return to correctly do what they were originally told to do. For example, if they were sent to Time Out for mistreating a brother or sister, they must make amends and show that they can play or interact in a positive way upon leaving Time Out. If they refuse or fail to do this sufficiently, they are then told to return to Time Out and the process starts over. This procedure should continue until they are able to finally say they are sorry and demonstrate they can interact positively with their sibling. When they do so, we then can praise them for doing a good job. They have now demonstrated a behavior to positively reinforce. Looking for this opportunity for positive reinforcement should be the ultimate goal in our Time Out procedure.

As parents, we should be prepared to stick with this process. Don’t get discouraged! Yes, it may take a bit more effort initially, but the payoff is worth it. This procedure and many others are processes I help parents with every day in counseling. If you feel your parenting skills could use a tune up or even a compete overhaul, schedule an appointment today!


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