I want to play with it! It’s mine! The first raised voices of the day between your children. You can see the two of them in the next room, so there will be no case of “he said, she said” when it comes to fixing the problem. You watch for a second to see if they might turn the ship around and return to calm waters. Nope.

A parental headache is unfolding & instantly becomes a migraine after you see your daughter hit your son in the face. They know that hitting is against the rules! Why do it?! You’re into the room in a flash, taking your daughter by the shoulders to tell her that hitting isn’t allowed and that she’ll have to go to time-out for her behavior. She cries as you carry her over to your time-out step, chair or spot. You place her back there a couple of times before her time is over all the while wondering if you’re doing the right thing. Are you simply being mean? Is she learning anything from this? Is it important that she does?

Time-outs are an ever-popular subject for parents to discuss and question. Do they work? Yes! No! Maybe, but not for my kids! The TV Supernanny, Jo Frost, is a major proponent of them. I have used them myself and instructed parents in time-out techniques. In other cases, time-outs are said to be counterproductive & ineffective. An article that I cited last month says that time-outs should be a thing of the past because they don’t result in long-term behavior change.

Sadly, I’m not going to put this question to rest with a definitive answer. Shucks. So as with any other middle of the road response, I’m going to say, use time-outs wisely. Don’t overuse them, having them be the only form of discipline or consequences that are used in your house. Time-outs are effectively manufactured consequences that are good for creating distance from a situation and an opportunity for a kid to cool off (not that they always avail themselves of this opportunity). So if a child doesn’t need to be removed from a situation or need time to cool off, then I’m not sure if a time-out is the best-chosen consequence.

Time-outs are useful when kids are not able to take part in an activity that they’ll miss. A time-out at the playground when fun is interrupted often hits home a bit more than simply being put on a step after refusing to get dressed. In many cases an alternative to a time-out is an even more potent consequence. For kids old enough to understand, having privileges taken away can have much more meaning than 5 minutes of sitting.

Ok, so maybe we agree on when to use time-outs now? Maybe? But the trick to making them an effective tool in your toolbox is to do them well.

Time Out Pop Quiz:

  1. How many times should you explain to a child why they are in time-out?
  2. Should you show them your anger when placing them in time-out?
  3. What should you do if they get up before their time is up?
  4. How long should they sit? And is it imperative to use a timer?
  5. What should you do if they cry, call your name and say they’re sorry while in time-out?
  6. What should you do if they cry, call you names and say they hate you while in time-out?
  7. How should a time-out end?
  8. What if they return to the same negative behavior immediately after being done with their time-out?

Thoughts? Post your answers or comments below. And stay tuned to the next installment of the Kid Whisperer on (cool) progeny January 11, 2012 for my answers to the pop quiz.