When done correctly, time-outs are an effective way to let your child to connect his bad behaviour with the outcome.
More gentle than punishments and spankings, time-outs are often a preferred discipline strategy. However, you shouldn’t impose this mini-break on your mini-me when you’re angry. You can impose one, so that both you and your child will have several moments to regain control and re-enter the situation with more positive feelings.
Before you give your tyke his next time-out, keep the following pointers in mind …
1. Choose when to give a time-out
Before you give your tot a time-out, know exactly why you’re picking this form of discipline. Time-out isn’t a form of punishment but a way to stop unwanted behaviour. You’re removing your child from the location of his bad behaviour, so he can calm down, remove any negative feelings and reflect on what he did.
It lets you nip what he’s doing in the bud, while giving yourself the chance to compose yourself before taking the next step to correct his behaviour firmly and calmly. Time-out is best suited for children aged 18 months to around 4.
2. Choose the place
As most misdeeds usually happen at home, choose a quiet spot in your house that’s free of distractions. Use a step stool or a floor mat to mark the spot. If you want, you may want call it something like the “thinking chair”, the “calm corner” or the “quiet place”.
It lets you nip what he’s doing in the bud, while giving yourself the chance to compose yourself…
3. Choose the length of time
A general rule would be a maximum of one minute for each year of your child’s age. However, there is no hard and fast rule. Keeping in mind that the purpose of a time-out is to calm your child down and get him to think about his behaviour, if your 18-month-old can do this in 45 seconds, you can remove him from time-out before the minute is up.
4. Explain what a time-out is
Describe to your child what a time-out is when you’re both in a good mood. Show him the quiet spot and tell him that’s where he will go if he doesn’t follow the rules or if he needs to calm down.
List the behaviours that may warrant a time-out ― these may include throwing a tantrum, hitting or biting a sibling, snatching toys, or throwing food.
Let him know how long a time-out is. You may want to get a ringer or a bell ― you can explain that he’ll stay there till the bell sounds.
5. Apply immediately, follow through and be consistent
If a rule is broken, take your child to the quiet spot right away. If you let him complete other tasks first ― such as finishing a TV show or putting away his toys ― the message can get lost. He may forget his misdeed and be confused when you impose the consequence on him.
Once you’ve told him that a specific behaviour will lead to time-outs, be consistent. Otherwise, he will not take time-outs seriously the next time, and even try to wriggle out of it.
6. Keep it matter-of-fact
“No biting, Jon ― it hurts your sister. Go to the time-out corner.” Keep things short and simple by using fewer words. A format you can follow is:
* Say “no” to the misbehaviour.
* Why what he did was wrong.
* The consequence ― in this case, a time-out.
You may encounter problems. Your tot may try to leave his time-out spot, or even refuse to enter it in the first place. If so, hold him firmly in the spot. You may even want to stay near him, but let him know that you won’t be talking to him while he quietens himself. If he runs off, firmly bring him back to the spot, tell him that you will be starting the timer again.
Another method is to get him to make a choice, for instance, “You can choose to continue screaming and stay in the time-out corner for a longer time, or calm yourself down for two minutes and get on with playing after that.”
The idea is that your child eventually realises the consequence of his actions, on his own.
8. Correct the behaviour
Once time-out is over, have a quick chat with junior about how he feels about his time-out. Ask him to show you the right way to play or behave, prompting him if needed. The idea is that your child will eventually realise the consequence of his actions on his own.
9. When you’re out
Giving a time-out isn’t limited to your home ― you can use it effectively even when you’re out. Pick a quiet place, such as a bench in a shopping mall, or under the tree in a park. You can even use your car as a time-out spot. Tell your tot that the same rules apply, even when you’re out, and he can resume what he was doing once he has calmed down.
10. Praise him
Since it isn’t easy for your 2-year-old to stay in a spot longer than a few seconds, show that you recognise his efforts by praising him after the time-out. Tell him that you love him very much and give him a hug. But remind him that actions do have consequences, and you’ll apply the same rules again if he repeats his actions.
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