This Mamapedia article by Amy over at Pretty Babies gave helpful tips on how to give timeouts. Amy, who has worked at a residential facility for kids with mental retardation and behavioral disorders, said the timeout should NOT be used as a tool for punishment. Instead, she said:
The time out serves two purposes.
- It removes the misbehaving child from whatever stimulus or situation is causing the misbehavior (so, if little Sally is hitting little Johnny, it removes Sally from Johnny’s presence, which interrupts the hitting behavior).
- It reestablishes parental authority (in other words, it reminds the child who is in charge).
I did know that timeouts should be limited to one minute for each year of the child’s age. Right now, Eli receives 2-minute timeouts. (A threat of a timeout is enough to send Ari cowering in shame so he rarely, if ever, gets a timeout.)
But there was a lot I did not know — like how to properly give a timeout. I will definitely keep these tips in mind next time Eli acts up:
Child is misbehaving. Parent says, “Child, if you do not stop doing X, you’re going to get a time out.“ Child continues to misbehave. Parent says, “I’m sorry you’re choosing to do X, you need to come take a time out.“
You then remove the child to the time out area. We started with the crib, but now we do them at the bottom of the stairs (on the lowest step or on the rug in front of the stairs – and you all just thought I was weird for having a bath mat at the bottom of the stairs!!). I don’t believe in having a single place (like a “Naughty Chair“) to take time outs. First, because if you say, “You will sit THERE“ you get into a power struggle. If you say, “You can take your time out here or there,“ you’re still allowing the child choices, and you’re less likely to get into a senseless power struggle. Second, because if the child is used to a single chair, what do you do when you go out? Take it with you? Stairs and rugs are common enough, though, that you can find them virtually anywhere, and having multiple locations makes it easier for the child to generalize when you’re at Grandma’s, say, and you have to do time out on a chair instead of a step.
Assuming that the child goes willingly (I’ll get to unwilling children in a second), you start a timer and say, “Good job. You’ve got two more minutes.“ If the child wants to scream and cry and freak out, that’s ok. In addition to removing them from the situation that causes the misbehavior, allowing them to scream and holler allows them to release some of the frustration/tension that the situation has caused. This is healthy. The place where I worked required the children to be “calm and compliant“ before the time out countdown started, but I think that’s crazy. I don’t care if MG cries the whole two minutes, as long as she is on the step or the rug.
Anyway, you sit there for the two minutes with them, giving comfort with your presence but not talking to them (except to maybe remind them to stay in the time out area, or say, “It’s ok,“ or “You’re doing fine,“ or “Calm down,“ occasionally). This is not the time to have a discussion about what happened. Just give them that two minutes to get control of themselves. Be encouraging and supportive, but not too much. A word or two here or there is all you need. A lot of parents talk too much, in general. That’s another post…
When the timer beeps, get down on the child’s level and give her a hug. She needs reassurance that you still love her, no matter what she did. Then you explain, in terms that she can understand, why she got the time out. “Child, you did X, so I had to give you a time out. Next time when you feel Y, instead of doing X, you could try doing Z instead.“ (Next time you feel frustrated, instead of hitting your sister, you could try walking away, instead.) You are Teaching here, not punishing.
Good advice. Do you give your children timeouts? How do you implement them?