Disciplining kids: parents, babysitters and teachers don’t want to do it, but we must. We don’t expect perfect little adults, but we want to grow happy little people who can cope with the world around them. Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to administer time outs or any form of discipline.
The concept of discipline should be thought of as a teaching tool for life, not a punishment. If you can wrap your head around the idea that yelling is a negative that only perpetuates more negative behavior. time outs can be done in a positive way that teaches coping and emotional self-management to young children—and adults.
Upon hearing the term “time out,” you might envision the classic power struggle of parent chasing toddler without the desired result. Little ones should show some sign of understanding the rules before you begin to enforce them. For example, it might be the right time to start when your toddler tells on themselves or points out when you or another family member breaks a rule.
It’s also important to make a distinction between willful disobedience, the assertion of independence or the innocent curiosity of your child. When a child continues to perform a behavior he or she knows is not acceptable, it just might be time for a time out.
It’s a good idea to teach children that taking a break from a difficult or over stimulating activity or event is perfectly normal. Before your child starts misbehaving, consider teaching him or her to take a short break from super-stimulating activities, like busy outings, loud family parties or playing with siblings.
Parents can often tell when their kids are winding up for a meltdown, or feel like it themselves. This is the time for a perfect teachable moment: simply say, “Let’s take a time out to catch our breath” or “Let’s take a little time out from everyone to listen to some music or even snuggle.” Model this with a doll or stuffed animal during play with your child, too.
Yes, I am suggesting you take a time out or at least model what it might look like with your kid to teach them it’s okay and time outs don’t have to be bad. Taking a break from a stressful situation could help all of us, but it’s a great way to introduce the concept without pairing it with yelling or forcing a child to sit in a given spot for a set time. That might come later, but only as your child understands he or she is breaking a rule. I am also not opposed to the idea of distracting or redirecting a child away from something you know will wind him or her up to the point of frustration or anger. Most parents can see it coming a mile away, but wait too long to do something, myself included.
Like any other consequence you plan to give your child, it should not be a surprise and should not be done in anger. Remind kids what behavior is expected in certain places or situations and let them know they could take a break on their own or you might remind them to take a short time out to calm down some.
If you’re not at home, show your child a place where he or she might go themselves for a break or reassure them you will still be right there and will not leave them someplace. Kids can make adults angry, but keep calm and explain plainly and briefly which behavior is not acceptable and what the child should be doing instead.
Start small and don’t expect a miraculous change in behavior. Kids will be kids, and that means testing limits. Toddlers can probably sit, snuggle or sing for a minute or less and return to an activity, while school-age kids can sit for one minute for each year of their age with less frustration.
time out may not be appropriate for every situation, either, so gauge your expectations by when and where you are and the nature of the offense. Use your words, as we often tell them, to redirect them, praise the good things they do, or change the speed of the activity before your toddler runs off the rails, so to speak.
Remember, your child will be testing you for years to come, so just be loving and consistent and your child is sure to respond over time. As always, discuss your child’s behavior honestly with your trusted pediatrician and listen to his or her advice—it’s probably pretty good.