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Best Way To Use Time Outs with Your Kids


If you have a preschool-age child, you're undoubtedly familiar with the concept of using time outs when dealing with behavior issues in your kid. After all, the time out is a classic discipline standard of the modern mama. Used correctly, it can be effective in quelling unwanted behavior in toddlers and preschoolers.

As the amazing mom that you are, you already give your child loads of positive reinforcement and use positive discipline to help shape behaviors and let him or her know what flies and what's not ok. But sometimes—ok, ok, probably more like frequently!—your little one still sneaks in some naughtiness. Hitting, biting, drawing on the walls, screaming, talking back: sometimes it seems like kids are just born wanting to test limits. You might find yourself questioning your next move. Enter the time out.

Little ones at this age crave their parents' attention. Time outs are just another tool to encourage the behaviors you want to see, by taking away that much-desired attention rather than wasting it on behaviors you don't want to occur. Experts believe most kids misbehave for the attention, so loading it on when the poor behavior occurs is actually giving the child what s/he wants. Instead, you need to (briefly) remove your attention with the goal of ceasing the behavior. After you've detached your little one's mouth from his friend's arm, that is.

Ready to try it out? A few things first:

  • Don't think of time outs as a punishment, but rather as a cooling-off period for you both.
  • Talk to your child about taking time outs before you ever implement one. When your child is 18 months or older is a good time to bring up the idea of taking a break when behaviors are getting out of hand.
  • You don't want to rely solely on time outs to shut down misbehavior. It's best used as a last resort, after distraction, redirection, and prevention have failed to stop your little one from acting out.

When using a time out, it's not necessary to designate a chair or other spot as the physical and focal point for the break, although this is a commonly held belief. The goal really should be to take your child out of the conflict or emotional state, and to let them calm down. Any quiet spot free from distractions will work.

Bring your child into the time out and give them some time to calm down. It's not essential to set a timer or specify a certain amount of time the child has to stay in time out, though parents often do; remember the goal is to shut down the charged emotions, not implement a punishment. So as soon as your child has settled down and stopped the inappropriate behavior, some experts think the time out should be over.

Once your child is released from the time out, you should let go of the issue as well. Resist the urge to give a lecture about why s/he had to be removed from the fun in the first place. Instead, offer a smile and a hug and say a simple, "I love you. Please no more hitting." You should also try to remain as calm and neutral as possible when first implementing the time out—no yelling, spanking, or getting angry. After all, modeling good behaviors is just as important for child development as any other discipline. Just keep it simple by saying, "We don't hit. Let's go to time out."

Finally, it's important to be consistent. If you're going to use time outs to stop your child from hitting, make sure you use it whenever you see the behavior happening. Skip the warnings; your child shouldn't need to hear that if s/he hits again, it's time out. Instead if you see it, remove your little one from the situation and begin a time out immediately.

Don't forget to be lavish with the love and praise for the behaviors you want to see, mama!

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