I recently saw a post on one of the local buying/selling pages where a bunch of parents were ordering cute time-out chairs, with their children’s names on them. They’re adorable, yes, and the poems are sweet, but….
Do you really know what time-out is?
Generally, time out is a discipline technique that is widely misused and misunderstood.
“Time-out” is a negative punishment (which simply means you are removing something to decrease a behavior) and it means ‘time out from reinforcing activities.’ If your child is acting out because they don’t want to do something (like take a bath, do homework, eat their dinner), then time-out is not appropriate, because by sending them away you are reinforcing their acting-out behavior (they are able to escape from what they didn’t want to do in the first place when you send them to “time-out”).
Is there a right way to use Time-Out?
Yes! But it’s not what you think… since time-out really means you’re removing the thing that’s reinforcing the behavior, you don’t have to completely isolate your child by placing him in a chair in a corner for an arbitrary amount of time. You just separate him from the object/activity that is reinforcing their behavior. Not to mention, those pretty chairs look like fun! Talk about sending mixed messages.
An appropriate use of time out might look like this: My 2-year-old daughter was standing on a chair next to me at the kitchen island. She was playing with some toys and coloring. She began to take things off the island and throw them to the floor (it makes a great sound!). I asked her to not throw things to the floor. When she did it again, I removed her from the chair and placed her on the floor. She was upset, and I told her I did not like when she threw things to the floor. She calmed down pretty quickly and I asked her if she wanted to come back up. She said yes, and I put her back on the chair. She started throwing things on the floor again, so I removed her from the chair and we went and did something else. I removed the reinforcer (the sound of things hitting the floor). Was she happy? Nope. But she recovered pretty quickly when we started playing something else. There was no yelling involved, minimal struggling, and no isolating her simply because she was unable to comply with a request.
What about when your child is aggressive and/or just really needs time away from a too-stimulating environment?
You can still use a special chair…but maybe without the damning poems about boys hitting? If you really want to use one, and your child benefits from having time to cool down, why not make a cool-down area for him? It could be his special corner/area, a safe place where he can go to get away. Include some calming materials, such as a pillow to hit, or a Calm-Me-Jar.
You can also do a time-in, which means you take your child away from the stimulating environment and spend some one-on-one time with your child to talk about how they are feeling, discover what it is they may need, and really connect. After all, why would we isolate our children during a time when they are struggling and in need of guidance the most? You can also check out Twelve Alternatives to Time Out, by Ariadne Brill for more ideas!