Dr. Ramey: Here’s why timeout isn’t working

“No discipline works with my child” is a common comment I hear from parents in my office. A recently published survey in Academic Pediatrics provides some insight as to why a common technique such as “Time Out” is ineffective.

The researchers surveyed 401 parents of youngsters ranging in age from 15 months to 10 years. Seventy-seven percent of the parents reported using time out, but only 85 percent of them did so correctly.

The parents who used time out appropriately were more likely to describe it as effective. Here are among the most common errors made by parents.

1. Too many warnings. The more you threaten to put your child in time out, the less likely the technique will be effective. The problem is that your youngster never knows when you mean what you say. Your inconsistency dooms the efficacy of this technique.

Do this: Tell your child what specific behaviors will result in time out so that a warning is unnecessary. If you must, give no more than one alert.

2. Talking too much. Time out is intended to remove your child from all sources of attention and reinforcement. Many parents talk with their kids while they are in time out. Parents feel compelled to explain, justify, argue or defend their actions, which only elicits a futile discussion with your child.

Do this: Be quiet. Say absolutely nothing. Ignore anything your child says while in time out, including screaming, cursing, or other misbehaviors. When your child comes out of time out, give no more than a 10-word explanation for what occurred. “No hitting your brother.” You’re giving undue attention if you are using more than 10 words.

3. Time out is too much fun. Time out should be done in an area where the child receives no attention and cannot observe television or interact with people. Use of a bedroom is rarely effective.

Do this: Find a quiet part of the house, such as a chair in the corner of a room, but make certain your youngster receives minimal attention during the time out.

4. Leaves time out inappropriately. Many parents allow their children to leave time out when they wanted. That technique never works.

Do this: Two to three minutes of time out is sufficient. Longer time outs are no more effective than shorter ones. However, the key is to be certain that your child is quiet before being allowed out of time out. “When you are calm for one minute, you’ll be allowed to get up.”

When combined with positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior, time out is a powerful educational technique for most children.

Next Week: Telepsychology Therapy

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