If you read parenting books or watch any shows that advocate Time Out, you are aware that there are about 100 ways to do it.
But what is the right way to do Time Out? Is there some magic to Time Out that represents the necessary and sufficient kernel? Is it really one minute for every year old? Will your 6-year-old devolve to Unabomber status if you only do four minutes? Can we do without some parts of Time Out to achieve the ultimate goal of changing behavior?
Let’s start with some fundamentals. Time Out is not designed to be a punishment. Huh? Kids hate Time Out; doesn’t that make it a punishment? Well, yes and no. Punishment, by definition, is any stimulus that reduces the frequency of a behavior. If Time Out works to reduce a behavior, then it is indeed a punishment.
But more importantly, Time Out acts as reinforcement removal. This isn’t just a fancy-pants shrink term. It simply refers to the fact that some of the things parents do inadvertently reward or reinforce the very behaviors they want to get rid of. Time Out simply removes the child from that reinforcement or reward.
Yelling, screaming, nagging, threatening, reminding, mocking, teasing, are some of the chief culprits. What parent hasn’t fantasized that if they only give their command louder or with a more serious tone that Junior will listen? But your child isn’t deaf and he isn’t stupid. He’s just busy soaking up the attention. Yes, believe it or not, your angry yelling and reminding and lecturing are all highly reinforcing to your child, because one of the things your child craves is your attention.
If we had to rate your child’s response to your attention, POSITIVE ATTENTION would be a perfect 10 and NO ATTENTION would be a 0. What is surprising is that NEGATIVE ATTENTION would be a 7 or 8! Not a bad booby prize, huh?
So Time Out’s goal is to temporarily withhold attention from the child, because it’s just not a good idea to reinforce bad behavior. So how should Time Out actually be done?
- First, find a really boring spot in the house. Remember, Time Out should offer as little interest and reinforcement as possible. Sitting on the bed with lots to look at and play with is NOT a good place for time out. A stool or boring chair in a quiet hallway is more like it.
- Do not give your child any warnings or count “1-2-3” before sending him to Time Out. Doing so only contributes to cognitive/behavioral dependence. It tells him, “I don’t have to behave now; I’ll move when she really means business.” This prolonged interaction reinforces the problem behavior. Remember, any talking with your child is attention and reinforcing.
- Do not remind your child of what the rules/expectations are before a Time Out. It is his job to remember. Your kid is smart. Treat him like he is.
- Do not wait until he completes a problem behavior. Intervene with Time Out at the mere hint of misbehavior; this will help increase his vigilance and help him think before he acts. This actually fosters the development of the frontal lobes, which are responsible for planning, organizing, and thinking ahead!
- Do not bargain or back down once you decide on a Time Out. Doing so teaches your child to obey only when you mean business.
- Don’t talk to Junior on the way to Time Out. Any discussion or argument reinforces the problem behavior. Just say, “Go to Time Out.”
- Require immediate compliance with going to Time Out. You are the boss. (I’ll cover what to do if Junior does not go to Time Out another time)
- Time Outs should be about one minute per year old—according to adults’ watch, not his. It doesn’t matter if your 8-year-old has a 5-minute Time Out, so don’t fret too much about this.
- There will be no talking, singing, playing, humming, bouncing, bathroom requests during Time Out. You will wait for perfect behavior for the right number of minutes. If he chooses to waste an hour or two while settling into perfect Time Out behavior, so be it. No reminders of proper Time Out behavior. This is very important.
- “Keester Rule”: the butt stays on the chair!
- After Time Out, insist that Junior tell you what he did wrong. This necessitates his active vigilance, awareness, and memory, a primary goal for working with a misbehaving child. If he can’t remember or gives the wrong answer, it’s back to Time Out for another round.
- Make certain he not only tells you the specific behaviors he did wrong, but which principle or rule that was violated. We all brainwash our children; get used to it.
- Send him back to Time Out if he misbehaves on the way (after the original Time Out is complete). You are the boss, and the typical misbehaving/testing behaviors should not be permitted.
- Require him to perform the correct behavior after he’s told you what he did wrong. Again, establish yourself as the Parent in Charge.
Remember to reinforce him once he begins to comply with the original request/expectation. This is your chance to give Junior the positive reinforcement that you want to shower on him and that he craves! Be as vigilant with positive and compliant behavior as you are with misbehavior. You want him to thrive on positive interaction and social reinforcement.
So that’s the scoop on the best way to do Time Out.