Time-out or time-in? How to Encourage Good Behaviour?

What is a time-out?
A way to take your child out of a situation where he is doing something unacceptable is called as a time out. By sending your child away from the trouble spot to sit quietly by himself, parents can help stop negative behavior like hitting a playmate or snatching a toy out of another child’s hand, and hence, change the situation.

How can parents explain time-out to their young child?
By 2 years of age, parents can start to use time-outs as a tool to discipline their child. Explain what happens if he/she misbehaves by telling or warning him simply, “If you do something you shouldn’t and don’t stop doing it when mommy and daddy ask you to, you’ll have to go sit in time-out.” Show him by pretending with a stuffed animal or doll to help him understand.

How should parents use time out?

  • When the child misbehaves, give her a warning before sending her for a time-out. Don’t shout or show emotion, and make sure your voice and your face send the same message in a calm and kind way.
  • If she continues the behavior, send her to a designated safe area such as a chair, hallway, playpen or quiet corner.
  • Briefly explain what she has done and where she has gone wrong so that she can connect the behavior with the time-out. A simple phrase such as, “Mommy said no hitting.” is enough to send across that message.
  • If she doesn’t go by herself, lead her by the hand or carry her as you would an object, not in a “hugging” manner.
  • Be consistent, but flexible too. If your 2-year-old won’t sit still for 2 minutes, it’s okay to sit with her or to limit the time-out to 1 minute instead of 2.
  • When she is in time-out, make sure she can’t do anything interesting like watch television or interact with other people, including you. Do not negotiate when your child is in time-out. Ignore her, even if she shouts or apologizes.
  • Never suggest or make your child feel as if time-out means that you love or care for her less.

How long should time-out last?

  • Time-out should last for1 minute in accordance with your child’sage. For example- if your child is 2, time-out should be 2 minutes, 3 minutes for a 3-year-old, and so on. Time-out should last no longer than 5 minutes.
  • Use a kitchen timer. Put it where your child can see and hear it.
  • If your child keeps getting up from the designated spot, gently pick him up and put him back without speaking or making eye contact. When you put him back, reset the timer. This teaches him that you mean what you say. Be consistent.
  • But remember, the point of a time-out is to calm your child down and redirect his attention, not frustrate him to the point that he forgets why he’s there.

How should time-out end?
Make it clear that when the time-out ends is completely at your discretion. When it’s over, you can say, “Time-out is over. You can get up now.” After the time-out, it is okay to repeat the rule (“no hitting”), but don’t discuss it any more than that. If she hurt another person, ask her to apologize, and then create a fresh start by offering a new activity.
If your child repeats the behavior, start the process again.

Unlike a time-out, a time-in, or “catching the child being good”, is used for encouraging good behavior through use of positive interaction and by talking with your child when he is misbehaving.

Here are some examples of how to use them:

  • Giving your child lots of hugs, pat on the back and praise when she does something you like, especially if it’s the opposite of what sometimes gets her into time-out. For example, if she gets time-outs for hitting her sister, praise her for being a good sister when you see them getting along.
  • Change the activity or encourage your child to have quiet time by herself when you see a situation starting to get out of control.
  • Teach your child how to manage her emotions by offering a quiet cuddle and helping her talk about feelings. Teach her the words she needs.
  • Teach your child new words or behaviors to help her move out of a situation that could be negative.
  • Discuss different ways to deal with the same kind of problem next time