Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Using Time Out Effectively

Time out is probably one of the most discussed parenting/discipline techniques out there. The reviews are both positive and negative. Personally, I think Time Out can be a very effective tool; however, it has to be used appropriately.

The length of time out is one minute for each year of developmental age (i.e. 6 minutes for a 6 year old). This is the amount of time spent in the time out area, not the amount of time the child must remain quiet. This is a common misuse of timeout.

Time out should be done in a boring place where there is likely to be little entertainment. The whole idea of time out is to remove the child from any reinforcing stimuli. It is also supposed to be a punishment, so sending them to their room, which is filled with their toys, is not an effective way to use time out. Where ever you decide to have time out, make sure their are no dangerous objects around.

Use a kitchen timer of some sort to monitor the length of time out. This helps eliminate the child constantly asking "Can I come out yet?" "Is the time up?" This also helps parents to remember that their child is in time out. I have seen parents who get distracted and end up forgetting the child is in time out. Set the timer when the child sits in the time out chair or enters the time out area. Time begins when the child enters the time out are, not when they become quiet.

When sending a child to timeout, use a simple instruction with fewer than ten words, such as "No fighting. Go to time out". Do not lecture or scold. Keep your voice calm and even. Children will pick up on frustration or anger in your voice and this will escalate their behavior.

The child should be instructed to go to time out within 10 to 15 seconds of the behavior occurring. Time out is most effective when it occurs immediately. Children, especially young children, do not have the cognitive ability or attention span to make the connection between behavior and consequence if a large amount of time has elapsed.

For every 10 seconds of delay or arguing after being told to go to time out, add one additional minute up to a maximum of five additional minutes. For example if the child argues for 10 seconds say, "That's one more minute". If it continues for another 10 seconds say, "That's two more minutes". Do not go past an additional 5 minutes. Again, keep your voice calm and even.

Do not speak to or attend to the child during time out. Do not even make eye contact. Remember you are trying to deprive them of any reinforcers, including you.

If a child, under age 6, leaves time out before the time is up, simply place the child back in time out without speaking or making eye contact.

If an older (i.e. ages 6-12) child refuses to go to time out or leaves time out early, withhold a preferred activity or other reinforcer until the child completes the time out. For example, "You have no TV until you do your time out." If they continue to refuse, withdraw another preferred activity. Do not withdraw more than two activities. These activities must be withheld until the child does timeout or until the next day. Do not carry the consequence into the next day, as this is too far delayed to be effective.

When time out is over, you may say, "Time out is over." Do not counsel or discuss the behavior that results in time out. There is no evidence that discussing the infraction adds any positive effect to time out, and it may even reduce the effectiveness by providing attention at the end of the process.

If the child is still crying or shouting at the end of the time out period, set the timer for one more minute (or two additional minutes for a child over 6). Repeat this procedure, as needed, up to three times. Say only, "That's X more minutes for you to quiet down." and do not make eye contact. If the crying or shouting persists beyond this point, just ignore. (In no case should the child be allowed to leave time out without loss of a preferred activity unless they have been quiet for a minimum of 30 seconds.

Start by using time out for only one behavior and plan to use it consistently for at least four weeks. For children 4-12, describe the time out procedure with them before you try to implement it. Expect objections. Ignore them and do not negotiate. If you must speak say only. "We're going to do this." If objection persist, walk away. Do not engage in a debate.

Some parent will utilize a count to 3 method before placing a child in time out. This is acceptable as long as you consistently follow through when you get to three. If you push it past that, you have just lost all creditability with your child. One potential downside of counting to 3 is that children quickly pick up on the fact that they can continue to do something through 1 and 2 and will push this.

Another acceptable approach is to give them a choice to behave differently by saying "You have a choice. You can either finish your homework or you can go to time out". This brings me to another important point, which is that time out can sometimes be used by a child as an escape. For example, they don't want to pick up their toys, they throw a tantrum, you put them in time out, and all the sudden the toys are forgotten. For this reason make sure that they complete whatever task it was when they get out of time out.

Also, don't forget about extinction bursts.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Makes me thankful I don't have to deal with this! (No kids.)

Tiger85 said...

This is very helpful. I use the count to 3 but I think I'll stop that. It is not helping. I try to stay calm and there has been a big difference but I lecture. This will help me discipline him correctly, Thank you. =)

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