Time-outs that work

toddler having a tantrumToddlers are great at pushing their parents’ buttons. In fact, they view their own outbursts as performances, and sometimes, sadly, to get attention they are not getting from their parents. In case of a conflict – misbehavior, screaming, fits, etc. – try to stay calm. If necessary, leave the room for a few minutes to cool off. Spanking or any physical form of punishment is not only unacceptable but also sends the wrong signal to your tot – that aggression gets results. You don’t want to go down that road. Time-out has been an age old technique to deal with bad behavior of babies, toddlers and kids, and it’s still around because it works. Time-outs work because they help both the child and the parent to regroup and proceed with a clean slate. They are also recommended over something like spankings by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here a few steps to a successful time-out:

  • Find and dedicate a room or space in your home for time-outs. The area has to be no-fun, free of toys and games and quiet of music or TV. Place a chair, bouncer or playpen in the area and that will be the time-out spot.
  • When the child misbehaves, tell him to stop this behavior and quickly explain why it’s bad. Do not ask why the tot is doing it, he doesn’t know why.
  • If the behavior continues, give him a warning before he’ll go to the time-out spot.
  • If the warning didn’t work, place him in the time-out spot, carrying him with his back to you; do not say anything. This is not the time for commentaries.
  • Set the clock timer (or any other kind of timer, such as your microwave) to the age of your child. For 1 and under use 1 minute. For 2 year olds and under use 2 minutes, etc. Use the time that is closest to the child’s age – for 26 month old, it’s 2 minutes, but for 32 month old, 3 minutes work better. Leave the room.
  • If he gets out of the time-out seat, put him back in without saying anything and set the timer again. Repeat as many times as necessary. If this proves too hard and you spend up to an hour trying, consider securing the child in the seat – use a high chair or bouncer. Over time, however, keep trying without a seatbelt. Your toddler needs to understand time-out is his punishment and voluntarily sit in the chair.
  • When the timer runs out, explain to the child why you put him in the time-out seat: “I put you in the time-out seat because you did XYZ”. Toddlers understand events in the recent past best (as opposed to future “don’t do this again” sort of thing). Ask him to apologize or repeat why you gave him a time-out.
  • Give him a hug and tell him that you love him. As upset as you might be over his behavior, it’s important for kids to know that time-out is not the sign that they are unloved.
  • Remember, practice makes it perfect

This time-out technique works great when you are at home but what do you do when you are out? Consider using a stroller for a quick time-out. And keep your cool.

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