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Correcting Misbehavior with Time-Out

What to Say When Time-Out Is Over
For most misbehaviors, start fresh when your child completes time-out. If your daughter went to time-out for swearing, change the subject when she exits. Do not lecture her on the evils of using improper language. Your words will likely land on deaf ears. The time to explain right and wrong is later, when your daughter is more receptive.

Here is an example:

Sarah: (Says a bad word.)
Mom: "Sarah, that's swearing. Go to time-out."
(Five minutes later, Sarah comes out of time-out.)
Mom: "Have you seen my calculator anywhere?"
(Mom changes the subject--to start fresh.)

Here is what NOT to do:

(Sarah comes out of time-out.)
Mom: "Now aren't you sorry you said that word?"
Sarah: "No!"
Mom: "Then you march right back into time-out and do not come out until you are sorry!"

If your child went to time-out for refusing to do something, then he must do the task when he comes out of time-out. If your son went to time-out for refusing to set the table, he must set the table when he comes out. If he refuses, send him back to time-out. Doing time-out is not a trade for setting the table. Do not let his refusal to set the table delay dinner; that would give him power. If you suspect that your son may not cooperate, ask him to set the table an hour before dinnertime. This gives him plenty of chances to set the table. Spending an entire hour in time-out (five minutes at a time) may encourage him to be more cooperative.

Here is a caution about time-out and chores. Having household jobs teaches children responsibility. Jobs give children an opportunity to accomplish something and feel proud. I have known some parents who expect their children to do several hours of housework every day. Children resent working if it becomes burdensome. Children need responsibilities, but they also need to be children. They should not spend hours each day doing housework. Do not use time-outs to make servants of your children.

You Can't Win If You Don't Keep Score
Keep a record or chart of your child's time-outs. Charting helps you be consistent. It is easy to be consistent with a new idea, just as it is easy to diet for three days. As the novelty wears off, we get lazy. Charting makes you stay consistent. The chart will show that your child goes to time-out less and less. Looking at the chart will make you and your child feel successful, and feeling successful will keep both of you motivated. You and your child will be achieving your goal. Download the Time-Out Chart here.

Count the number of time-outs per day or per week. If the number of time-outs goes down, the system is working fine. Do not be discouraged if your child's chart does not show improvement quickly; some children need more time. Some children are persistent and resist change. Some children have several good days and then a few bad days. Some children may even misbehave more at first. They want you to think that no matter what you try to do, it won't work. They think, "I'll show you."

Charting is important because the rate of improvement varies from child to child. Some children improve dramatically in less than a week. If this happens to your child, you will believe that time-out works well. Some children are more persistent in their misbehavior. Improvement is much slower and more difficult to see on a day-to-day basis. It may take several weeks before you see significant improvement. You will be tempted to stop using time-out and add it to the "We have tried everything" list. Your child may average four time-outs a day the first week. At the end of two weeks, he may average three time-outs a day. This is a small improvement. A chart will show small improvements. A chart will keep you from being discouraged if large improvements do not occur right away. There will be days that you will need all the encouragement you can get.

Many days may pass with no time-outs. Then several time-outs will occur within a few days. Some children test more than others. Every once in a while, your child will test you to see if anything has changed. He needs assurance that you still mean what you say. Charting will let you know if this happens with your child.

Sometimes time-outs increase because you are having bad days. Maybe you have let your children get away with a bit more misbehavior than usual. You have not been as consistent as you need to be. Maybe your focus is negative. You have forgotten to look for good behavior.

"Go Ahead, I Like Time-Out"
What if your child says, "Go ahead. I like time-out. It gives me a chance to get away from the rest of this crazy family for a few minutes"? Many clever children make statements like this. It may be true--at least the part about getting a break from the rest of the family--but ignore these remarks completely. This will not be easy. Do not start lecturing and moralizing. Do not respond with, "There must be something wrong with you if you like time-out." This will only convince your child that your button is being pushed. Do not get trapped into believing everything your child says. If you want to evaluate time-out, do not ask your child. Look at the time-out chart.

What If There Is No Improvement?
It only means there is no improvement--yet. For most parents, the reason time-out does not work is because they are too impatient. We want quicker results for our hard work. Children learn to be more persistent than their parents. Children know that if they are stubborn long enough, Mom and Dad will give in, just like all the other times.

Keep charts on time-outs for several weeks. With some children, a little improvement is all you get at first. Ask yourself these questions:

Am I being consistent? Am I following through every time the priority misbehavior occurs? You cannot skip a few times. If you only follow through when you feel like it, you will make the problem worse. You will be teaching your child that being persistent in a negative way pays off.

Am I getting angry when I use time-out? Some children want you to get angry. This is their goal. They will gladly serve several time-outs as long as they can push your button each time. Getting you angry may be a bigger reward than any amount of time-out. In other words, the punishment of time-out is outweighed by the reward of your anger.

Am I giving my child too much attention when I use time-out? Do not engage in long discussions and explanations. Do not let time-outs pull you away from other children or other responsibilities for long talks. Five minutes in time-out is a good trade for some of Mom's or Dad's individual attention. If time-out seems more like a game than a punishment, you are giving too much attention.

Am I forgetting to be positive about good behavior? You cannot use time-out alone and expect it to work. Use time-outs as part of a total plan. Spend more energy on the positive than the negative. If you only concentrate on misbehavior, time-out will not be as effective.

A parent recently told me that time-out changed her entire family. For years, she and her husband would yell and spank. The children would yell in return. Her seven-year-old son summed it up best: "I like time-out, Mom. It's better than what we used to do."

Time-out is a mild form of punishment that works. Use time-out with determination and planning, and arrange it in advance. This will teach your children how to predict the consequences of their behavior and make better decisions. Use time-out consistently, each time the priority misbehavior occurs. Be calm and in control of the situation when you use time-out. If you get angry, you are using time-out incorrectly.

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.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here or on the book cover. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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