When your child acts up, the best way to nip the behavior in the bud is often to remove him/her from the activity at hand and offer a chance to calm down. This technique, known as a time-out, is an effective, nonviolent way to shape behavior. Here are the keys to a successful time-out:
- A time-out isn’t a punishment. It’s an opportunity for your child to learn how to cope with frustration and modify behavior. It’s a time for reflection and while your child is in a time-out, try to let him/her sit in solitude for a few moments. Any attention from you – positive or negative – only reinforces unwanted behavior.
- Make sure you’re giving time-outs for the right reasons. Reserve time-outs for things like hitting or continuing to disobey. Then be consistent whenever your child breaks the rules.If your toddler is whining, crying, or sulking, he/she doesn’t need a time-you’re your kiddo is probably feeling frustrated or disappointed. In that case, the best thing is to sit down and find out what’s wrong.
- Sometimes a little quiet time alone is all your child needs to switch gears and calm down. (If you step aside and take a deep breath, you can do the same instead of getting caught up in his struggle.) What’s helpful about a time-out is that it can defuse and redirect an escalating situation in an unemotional way. It lets you teach your child without setting a negative example, the way yelling or hitting does.
- Two common mistakes parents make when giving time-outs are talking too much and getting upset or angry. Make your explanation immediate, brief, and calm. Use direct eye contact and be firm. When the time-out is over, give your child a hug. A sign of affection demonstrates that your kiddo is still worthy of your love even though his behavior is unacceptable.
- Make sure your child is old enough for a formal time out. Toddlers find it hard to sit still, so trying to make your little one stay in a one place for a certain period of time can easily disintegrate into a chase scene. Meanwhile, because your kiddo has a short attention span, your toddler forgets why you wanted him/her to sit still in the first place. Instead of helping your child regain self-control, you find yourself in a power struggle.
- Before your child is ready for a solitary time-out, you can introduce the idea by taking a “time-in.” When your child gets revved up and borders on losing control, say, “Let’s take a time-out to read a book until we feel better.” Any quiet activity, such as listening to music, lying down, or putting together a simple puzzle, will work. Taking a time-in with you disrupts the spiral of negative behavior while avoiding the battle of wills that a more formal time-out can incite. It also painlessly introduces your child to the idea of a cooling-off period.
- It is important not to view discipline only in terms of time-outs and negative consequences. Be sure to give your child praise and encouragement when he/she behaves well. Emphasizing positive reinforcement for good behavior and teaching your child alternate behaviors when he/she starts to misbehave work far better than simply punishing bad behavior.
- When your child can follow simple directions and has a slightly longer attention span, he/she is ready for a more traditional time-out. Between ages 2 and 3, kiddos are better able to understand cause and effect.
As you’ve no doubt discovered, toddlers are notoriously active, willful, and unpredictable. Don’t expect miracles! Testing limits and gauging your reactions is your toddler’s way of establishing a secure understanding of his world. Consistency and patience are very important. No single disciplinary approach, including time-outs, will transform your toddler into an obedient angel. You’ll want to experiment with a variety of discipline techniques throughout toddlerhood – with a healthy balance of positive reinforcement for good behavior – to find out what works best for both of you.
In fact, if your child is usually obedient, you may be lucky enough never to need a time-out. Requests and redirection may be sufficient. Or you may find that changing the pace to a quieter activity works well throughout your little one’s childhood. At every stage, learning which behaviors are normal (or unavoidable) keeps your expectations realistic.