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Correcting Misbehavior with Time-Out

Choosing the Best Setting for Time-Out
The setting for time-out needs to be boring. Most bedrooms are like recreation centers. Use a bathroom, laundry room, utility room, or spare bedroom. Use a room with light. Whichever room you select, make it dull. You may want to put a chair in the room. Remove all opportunities for self-amusement. Remove all dangerous items and breakable objects. Remove anything that is valuable. For most children, you will only need to follow these precautions for three weeks or less. Once your children have learned the procedures for time-outs, you may gradually become more trusting.

Many parents have concerns about placing their child in a separate room with the door closed. This is usually more of a problem for the parent than the child. If you do not feel comfortable with the door being closed, you may try leaving it ajar. The risk here is that your child can get up and peek out, make noises for you to hear, listen to other children having fun, and so on. If your child is willing to comply with time-outs with the door ajar, there is no problem. Explain to your child that the door can be left ajar as long as he remains quiet and cooperative. If he begins to act up, the door will be closed. Some parents have used a gate across the bathroom doorway. This is permissible as long as your child does his time-out without manipulating.

Time-out is worth the planning and preparing. The setting for time-outs must be completely safe. Make your time-out room as childproof as possible. Remove anything that might cause harm. Your child must believe that you are confident about the room being safe. Eliminate any doubts that make you feel uncomfortable. Your child may use these doubts against you, saying, "I'm scared. I'm afraid to be alone in here." Do not let these statements influence you into letting your child out before the time is up. Tell your child, "There is nothing in the bathroom that will hurt you." It may be helpful to sit in the time-out room yourself for several minutes. Look around. Pretend you are an angry child. What could you say or do to make Mom or Dad never want to put you in time-out again?

You may have to withstand pressure from friends and relatives. Adults who are unfamiliar with time-outs may regard them as cruel. It's ironic that many parents who see time-outs as mean see nothing wrong with spanking. Do not be influenced by this. I have never known of a child who suffered emotional damage from sitting alone for ten minutes.

Many parents use the bathroom for time-outs. A spare bathroom is preferable. Bathrooms are sturdy and contain few amusements. If you use the bathroom, remember, safety first. Remove all the medicines and all dangerous items such as razors and electrical appliances, and don't forget to remove the toilet paper.

Steven used the bathroom for time-outs with five-year-old Lynn. When he thought he had done everything to make the bathroom safe and boring, Lynn entertained herself by playing with the water in the toilet bowl. A little creativity goes a long way: Steven's remedy was to put a clamp on the toilet lid. He did not abandon the whole idea of time-outs just because there was a setback. He did not say what many parents might have said: "She is just having fun. Time-outs don't work." He worked through the problem. He was committed to making them work.

There is one caution about the bathroom. Do not use the bathroom as your time-out setting for a child who is being toilet trained; this would be confusing. Do not use the bathroom for time-outs with any child when another child is being toilet trained. You do not want your toddler to perceive the bathroom as a bad place. Use a utility room or spare bedroom, or your bedroom as a last resort.

Do not use a chair in the corner or a chair in the hall. Your child will learn that squirming, making faces, rocking, singing, humming, and kicking the chair legs are all excellent ways of getting you angry. Time-out needs to take place away from everyone else. A separate room is best. Kim used the couch for time-out. When her daughter would not sit, Kim would sit next to her and hold her down. This arrangement gave her daughter plenty of power. Her daughter was in charge of time-out, not Kim.

The Time in Time-Out
How long your child spends in a time-out depends on three factors. The first factor is your child's age. For children between the ages of two and three, one or two minutes in time-out is enough. For children between the ages of three and five, two or three minutes in time-out is enough. For children five and older, use five minutes.

Be consistent about the time, even though young children do not always understand the concept of time. Use a timer. An egg timer works well. The child can see the sand falling. This helps keep them occupied. Long time-outs are no better than brief time-outs. The length of time-outs does not change misbehavior; using time-out consistently does.

The second factor is the seriousness of the misbehavior. Manage most misbehaviors equally. Such problem behaviors as arguing, disobedience, improper language, or poor manners would all be five-minute time-outs. If you feel that fighting is more serious, perhaps ten minutes would be the rule. Keep it simple. Use five minutes for most misbehaviors. Use eight or ten minutes for one or two serious misbehaviors.

The third factor is how well your child cooperates. Being uncooperative adds more time. You want time-outs to work as smoothly as possible. If the standard time-out is five minutes, the time is five minutes only if your child goes to time-out willingly and sits quietly. If your child struggles on the way to time-out, double the time. Double the time only once.

If your child screams or has a tantrum while in time-out, ignore it. Do not start the timer until he is quiet. Simply tell your child that he has five (or ten) minutes and that you will start the timer when he is quiet. I tell children to knock on the door when they are ready to start their time. All the time spent yelling and having a tantrum does not count. This is how some children end up spending an hour or more in time-outs.

Children cry when they are unhappy. If your child whimpers a little, ignore it and let the timer continue to run. Ignore any singing, humming, storytelling, or poetry recitals. Do not start the timer if your child can be heard throughout the house. Treat this as an outburst. The rule is: if your child is sobbing, singing, or making noises to amuse himself, let the timer run. But if he is trying to get you upset, do not start the timer. Wait for him to become quiet. Tell him to notify you when he is ready to start the time.

From How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!. Copyright � Sal Severe, 2000. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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