February 25th, 2014

For some reason, time-outs were the discipline flavor of the 1990s and that flavor still lingers on. Time-outs are easy to administer and take no thought on an adult’s part, but, unfortunately, time-outs provide little learning for your child. Parents often say that they use time-outs again and again; my response: “Then they don’t seem to be working.” There are several serious concerns with time-outs:

*Learning Social Skills in Isolation? If you are trying to teach your child social skills, how can your child learn social skills in the isolation of a time-out? Social skills need to be taught and reinforced using direct instruction, not by ostracizing.

*Teaching Social Skills? When your child leaves the time-out chair and a similar conflict situation arises, your child has no additional skills to use in that situation. There has been no talk or rehearsal to increase your child’s behavioral repertoire for the next time your child feels angry or upset. There has been no practice to provide some additional behavioral and neurological pathways so that your child has new choices when a conflict arises again.

*Who needs the time-out: you or your child? Let’s be honest here—often when children are timed-out, it is the parent that needs the time-out! The parent needs space and time to cool down, not the child!

Some people say that they use time-outs effectively with young children. Some people use time-outs as a cooling off period. This can be a valid approach if two guidelines are followed:

1.Your child is given a choice of where they want to be and for how long: “Do you want to take a cool down in the kitchen or the living room? Should I check on you in two minutes or five minutes?”

2.The cooling-off period is step one of a longer process of working with your child’s angry feelings. Taking some time and space apart may help you and your child come back together and talk about the situation, re-strategize for next time, and set up some models for further rehearsals over the next several days. This cooling off period should be step one in the process of working through this angry situation. The cooling off period can be a re-centering so that there can be some important learning and growing around angry situations in which you and your child are partnered in learning social skills and how to best express angry feelings.

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