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Using Time Out as an Educational Disciplinary Tool

Opinion / September 14, 2012

Educators and parents have, since time immemorial, debated the best way to effectively discourage disruptive, uncooperative behavior in young children. While there are several different methods that adults can use, the best method is one in which the child truly understands why she is being punished so that she learns to modify her behavior in the future. Personally, as a parent and former educator, “time out” has always been the most effective method in my experience. Still there are right ways and wrong ways to use “time out.” Here are a few ideas for maximizing this particular method’s effectiveness:

1. Warn the child about the need for her to stop the behavior before giving time-out.

The fact of the matter is that young children are naturally impulsive. Their brains have not yet developed to the point where they can control their behavior in every single situation. As such, sometimes all that’s needed is notifying the child about the unacceptable behavior in order for it to stop. Before employing time-out, explain the behavior and tell the child that if it doesn’t stop, she’ll be put in time out for X minutes. Giving a warning also helps to reinforce the idea that there consequences and that we are capable of making good decisions to avoid such consequences. If they stop the behavior, reward them with plenty of praise.

2. Don’t ever yell at the child. Time out is a behavior modification tool, not a form of punishment.

Children are never happy about being placed in time out. When they’ve learned that they’ll be put into time out, emotions are flaring. They’re angry, sad, frustrated and confused all at once. The point of time out is to be put in a quiet area to let these emotions subside so they can understand why their behavior was wrong and unwanted.¬† When we yell at children before we put them into time out or otherwise become emotional, they’ll react emotionally, too. This is not the purpose of time out. The ultimate purpose is to learn to control one’s emotions and behaviors. That means you need to be in control, too.

3. Be consistent in your application of time out.

Time out becomes completely ineffective if it isn’t carried out when you say it will be. Many parents and educators will sometimes commit to time out, then either forget out about it, or let the child cajole her way out of it. Time out must be consistent so that the child understands that consequences in life are consistent. The child must understand as she develops that she isn’t immune from consequences for actions and behaviors that are within her control. Time out teaches this, but only if it’s applied consistently with no exceptions.

4. Using a timer (like the Time Out Clox) can improve the effectiveness of time out by helping the offending  child understand, in concrete terms, the (not endless) consequences of disruptive behavior.

What many adults don’t understand is that children experience time in a markedly different way than do adults. What may seem to an adult mind as a seven minute time-out for a seven-year-old, feels in the mind of a seven-year-old like an eternity. Using a timer can help children understand that there are boundaries to the frustration they’re enduring while in time out. Seeing a timer shows a child that they haven’t been abandoned and ignored forever. There’s a limit to it, and this helps them immensely in calming down so that they can think about their behavior.

Of course, many children are very intolerant of time out. But if you follow these steps consistently, the child will eventually understand its purpose. Good luck!


Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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