Using Time Out Discipline Effectively

Children have to learn that all behavior has consequences. Failure to let children experience the consequences of their actions may indeed spoil a child, but harsh or rigid discipline is not required.

Many professionals advise using a technique called "time-out," which temporarily removes the child from social interaction he or she enjoys. When the normal consequences of their actions aren't enough to motivate children, it may be useful to create an artificial consequence such as time-out.

For example, if your child is interrupting adults in conversation by speaking loudly and pulling on the adult, you may feel like stopping your conversation and shouting at your child. If your child was trying to get your attention, his behavior worked, even though the attention was negative.

In calling a time-out you might say, "I see you want to be included in our conversation, but you are not being polite. So now you will have to sit in the other room for a few minutes until you are ready to be polite, and then people will want to talk with you." A good rule of thumb for time-out length is one minute per year of age.

Professionals have found that time-out is more effective when the child is removed from social interaction rather than from physical things. For example, if two children are fighting over a doll, it would be better to use time-out than to take the doll away from them as punishment.

If Your Approach to Discipline Isn't Working

You may need help with your approach to discipline if:

  • You are often at the end of your rope

  • You find yourself shouting all the time

  • You have a great deal of stress

  • You are at the point of diminishing returns; the more you argue, the less satisfaction you get

  • You can't see any other options