Time-Out

Dr. Glenn Latham, a researcher, professor, and parenting expert says, ""Time-out," a behavior management strategy known to nearly every parent, is one of the most misunderstood and badly used strategies for dealing with the inappropriate behavior of children" (203).

We've been there: trying to manage a time-out can become punishment for you.

Dr. Latham goes on to say, "But when well understood, and well used, it is a wonderful tool for managing children's difficult behaviors" (203).

What are the keys to using time-out effectively?

Teaching versus Time-outs

Time-out should be seen as a time away from reinforcing behaviors, and not a time of punishment. Researchers from BYU (Young et al.) remind parents that good discipline comes down to good teaching (13). When we view time-out as a tool for teaching our children, time-out takes on a different hue than if we look at it as a means to punish.
With misbehavior we should first consider using less formal methods than time-out. Verbal corrections often do the trick, "Sally, Ben was playing with that first so you need to give it back to him. When he's done you can take a turn." And many times we can simply ignore annoying behavior, allowing it to die out on its own.

Warnings?

If we do need to use time-out, Dr. Latham suggests we avoid threatening a child with time-out, using statements like, "If you do that one more time I'll put you in time-out," or, "I'm going to count to three and if you don't stop . . ." because warnings in the moment signal to the child that consequences to their misbehavior are negotiable.

When Do I Use It?

If the behavior cannot be ignored, then utilize time-out. Dr. Latham's suggestion for when time-out is needed includes:

  • behaviors that are abusive in any way (verbal or otherwise)
  • behaviors that disrupt play to the point that others cannot continue
  • behaviors that take over and become the major object of attention, like whining, screaming, and so on (212).

Modeling

In keeping with Young et al.'s recommendation that modeling is part of good teaching, Dr. Latham further suggests, "Both parents and children must have a clear understanding of which behaviors will be treated with time-out [which is why warnings aren't helpful], and the time-out procedure should be rehearsed with children in advance so they know exactly what to expect" (Latham 216).
Role-playing a time-out with your child before you need to use it can make a time-out less frightening for a child, and allows parents to simply administer a time-out without threatening first.

Dr. Glen Latham suggests two to three minutes after a child has calmed down. That means a child could potentially be in time-out for a long time, but that is okay. Checking on the child can actually create a flare-up in behavior, so if you're certain she's safe, leaving her alone is most effective. Sometimes a timer is helpful: You can instruct your child to push the two-minute button when she's calm, and when it goes off she can come out on her own.

Time-out can be a very effective method of teaching our children appropriate behavior. Dr. Glen Latham encourages parents to use time-out "in a precise, therapeutic way" (211).

This echoes the findings of Young et al., who tell parents that the key to good discipline is to view it first and foremost as teaching.

Sources

Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting: A Wonderful Way to Raise Children. Logan, UT: P&T Ink, 1994.
Young, Richard K., Sharon Black, Michelle Marchant, Katherine J. Mitchem, and Richard P. West. "A Teaching Approach to Discipline: An Alternative to Punishment." Marriage & Families, August (2000): 9-15.