Your 2-year-old has tossed her spaghetti on the rug and is shrieking "Mean Mommy!" Your 5-year-old is trying to ride the dog like a horse. And . . . uh-oh . . . so is your 7-year-old. Time for some effective discipline. The kind that teaches kids important lessons about behavior, boundaries, who's in charge (you), and how to calm down. Time-outs are one of the most effective and popular ways to do this. In fact, up to 70% of parents use them. The drawback is that there are almost as many ways to mess up a time-out as there are ways to make it work. (Hint: Shouting at your toddler won't help.)
Here are five smart ways to make time-outs work and three things that make them backfire. (It may help to pinpoint your parenting style with this quiz so you can apply this advice in a way that suits your style.)
- Make it borrrring. Bedrooms and playrooms are too fun for time-outs. A chair in the dining room, living room, or hallway -- wherever you can keep an eye on your child -- is best. (Toddlers can sit in an empty playpen.) You want your child to feel bored and to calm down without relying on distractions like TV to do the job.
- Be matter-of-fact. When your child misbehaves, clearly and calmly explain why a behavior is not acceptable. Tell her to stop, and warn her once that if she doesn't, she'll have a time-out to calm down and gain control. Skip yelling and lecturing. You want to minimize the behavior, not amp up the drama.
- Make room for praise. If your child stops as requested, be sure to praise the good behavior. (If she needs a time-out, praise her afterward for gaining control.)
- Be prompt. If the behavior continues, take her to the time-out spot. You may have to carry a toddler or a resistant child. Hold her facing away from you so your actions can't be confused with a hug.
- Don't hold a grudge. When the time-out is done, let her get back to what she was doing. She's served her time and learned the lesson -- no need to scold.
3 Time-Outs That Don't Work
- The out-of-the-blue time-out. Don't spring this technique on your child without first explaining it. Choose a time when all's well, show her the time-out spot, and briefly explain why you might use it: "If you pull the dog's tail or hit your sister, you will get a time-out." Some experts recommend practicing first with dolls, puppets, or stuffed animals.
- The too-long time-out. After age 3, 1 minute per year of age to a maximum of 5 minutes is the general guideline. And some experts say 20 seconds is enough for toddlers. Set a loud ticking timer.
- The kid-ruled time-out. A little voice pipes up, "I'm calm now!" Cute, but it's a clever bid to control the situation. YOU decide when the time-out ends. Promptly return a child who escapes the time-out spot, and reset the timer.
When do you use time-outs with your children? How well has it worked? Let us know.
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