When I first heard the words, "Time Out" I thought of an unhappy child, sitting in a corner on a chair screaming because they had gotten into trouble of some sort. I felt sad for the child and thought perhaps there was a better way of handling the situation. If only a conversation could be had and all would be fine. Many times that is all that is needed.
However, there are those times when conversations can't be had until everyone involved is calm and ready to listen to one another. That may even include the adult in the situation. I know myself, I have felt the need for a time out. Time to take a deep breath, calm myself down and regroup. Whether it is a child or an adult, a time out can be a productive way to defuse the situation in order to be able to come to a better understanding together of what is expected and what will be allowed.
Behavior is generally the reason a time out is used. Many factors are involved, most importantly the age of the child and their developmental ability. Other factors can be tiredness, illness and emotions. Just knowing what is developmentally appropriate behavior for a certain age can help when making a decision on what to ignore and what to give more attention to. Many times by simply meeting a need the problem can be solved.
To give an example:
You and your child have just gotten home from running errands and they are whining and pulling at your leg. You ask them to stop, but they continue. You ask them why they are whining but they can't tell you. Perhaps ask yourself if the past few hours of busyness has worn the two of you out? By taking five minutes of your undivided time to sit together reading a few books could give you both the much needed time together to relax and regroup. Or, you have been in the car too long and chasing each other around the table may be all that is needed to restore everyone's good nature.
There are the times when all the tricks have been used and nothing seems to work. The toys are flying and the screaming continues. Time out may just be what is needed. The next step is to understand what a time out is, what ages it is beneficial for and how to go about it.
What is Time Out?
It is a way to correct behavior by placing a misbehaving child (or frustrated adult) in a quiet place for a few minutes in order to calm down and then talk about the situation. Time out is NOT punishment, it is DISCIPLINE. Discipline is used to help children learn to identify and take responsibility for their own behavior.
Using Time Out
Before using time out, discuss with the child or children before you need to use it, what time out is and when it will be used. For example you may say, "The next time you argue about the toys and I give you a warning to stop and you don't pay attention you both will have a time out. This means you will each go to your room for quiet time for five minutes. I will let you know when the five minutes are up and then you can try playing together again."
Time out is appropriate for children ages three through twelve years of age and generally one minute for each year the child is works best. They should know where their time out space is ahead of time and it should be a safe (physically and emotionally) space. Some children do well by spending a little time alone in their room playing while other children may be destructive in their room and need a more defined space like a chair. No matter the place, it should never be scary or used to threaten or humiliate a child.
Give a first warning and if the behavior or activity does not subside call time out in a calm voice. If the child resists going ask them if they want to go on their own to their time out area or do they need your help. If they come out before time out is up just calmly send them back or take them back. A timer can be helpful.
Once the time out is over, decide whether a conversation is needed to reconfirm expectations. Many times it is best not to make a big deal out of the situation and allow the children to resume their activities.
Make sure you are consistent with your expectations so the child is not confused and frustrated, otherwise everyone will be upset and progress will not be made. Following through on consequences provides reassuring boundaries for children and helps them learn that our actions in life have natural consequences. The more consistent you are with younger children the easier it will be to discipline older children.
If you want to know more about your two through fourteen year old developmentally, I recommend the series by: Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., & Frances L. Ilg, M.D. Published by Dell Publishing
A few titles are:
Your Two-Year-Old Terrible or Tender
Your Three-Year-Old Friend or Enemy
Your Four-Year-Old Wild and Wonderful
Your Five-Year-Old Sunny and Serene