What Is a “Time-Out” Anyway

You’re in a supermarket and your kids get into  trouble. You warn them, “If you don’t stop you’re going  to get a “time-out” when we get home.” They don’t get  better so when you get home you enforce a “time-out”. You  direct them to respective chairs where they sit. They  say they are hungry. You tell them, “You’ll have to wait  until “time-out” is over.” You ask them what they want  for lunch. After you finish making their lunch you say  their “time-out” is over and they may come to eat. Was the  “time-out” effective? Did they learn anything? Did they  feel anything? What is a “time-out” and how do you give  one to your child?

A “time-out” is a period of isolation you purposely  give to your child where they do not get any attention from  you and they don’t control you. It doesn’t matter where  they are, or whether they have a “time-out” place. The  action is louder then words. The key points are personal  isolation and lack of control. Nobody is willing to  continue behavior that yields isolation and control of  nothing.

Let’s think about this a moment. What should a child  get for a positive behavior? If a child helps at the store  or cleans their room he or she receives praise and a  positive response from their parent. They receive  attention and control their parent’s response for that  moment. So what should children receive for a negative  behavior? Certainly not the same attention from the parent  and controlling their parent’s response! We should  consistently give negative behaviors a rapid response but  that response should involve little attention and a  controlled reaction from you. This is the reason “time-outs” are introduced as a tool for parents.

So when your child misbehaves, give them a quick  correction. Then isolate them with coldness. Don’t  respond to them at all. If you can’t ignore them where  they are (if they are screaming, crying or tantruming) then  put them someplace else or go somewhere else where you can  ignore them. During this entire time stay firm but in  control. Don’t let them control your response. You  control it. Through being isolated while you are in  control your children get just punishment for negative  behavior. Over time they will have no motivation for  continuing that behavior.

In the scenario I started with, the parent warned  about a “time-out” while in the store. But negative  behaviors need more immediate consequences. Then when  arriving at home, the “time-out” was really a peaceful  interactive time together while waiting for lunch. When  being punished kids need quick, stern correction followed  by a feeling of isolation from their parent while the  parent stays in control. A “time-out” is then properly  done. A “time-out” is not a thing to be warned about and  given to a child later. It is an action done rapidly  without warning after negative behaviors. As parents we  have a right to respond to behaviors that we do not want to  see. If ”time-outs” are done right, kids learn over time  that positive behaviors get a better response and naturally  gravitate towards them.