Time outs, like most child discipline strategies, get a bad rap at different times. Some criticize the technique as isolation, while others argue that time outs just don't work.
The main problem might be how parents are using (or not using) the time a child has been removed from an activity. There are ways to make a time out dynamic and effective for children, and as a valuable tool for managing their madness.
Next time your child needs a moment, give him an out, and take some time.
1. Time outs aren't just for children.
Time outs are also for parents: Moms, Dads, babysitters, nannies, and other caregivers. You can call it a "break," a few moments of "alone time," or just a "cooling off" period. If your anger is rising, it's time to step back. Put your child in a safe place, and get yourself to one, too.
2. Time outs don't have to be a form of punishment.
Perhaps a child needs to look at books, draw pictures, doodle on a drawing pad, or just otherwise cool down a bit. We all can use that, yes?
3. Children shouldn't have to sit perfectly still when removed from an activity.
In fact, this form of consequence can be most effective if the child is given something to do — perhaps a chore or a specific task to work on.
4. Time outs can help children manage their own behavior.
Sitting down or sitting out for a few minutes as a quick consequence can help children, at least in the short term, remember to monitor their actions. It's a non-threatening, physical step they can take as a reminder to try to stop a particular behavior.
5. Time outs support redirection.
Teach children to take the time think it out, talk it out, and apologize if needed.
6. Good conversations should happen during (or at the end of) time out.
A few minutes of quiet and calming offers a valuable opportunity to talk with your child about possible solutions for the next time the same problem rears its ugly head. What could he have done differently?
7. A child who is out of control might benefit from some time alone.
When legs are kicking, mouths are screaming, and arms are flailing, it's meltdown mode, and no time to try to reason with them or work on problem-solving strategies for the next time a conflict arises. Give it some time, stop worrying about isolating your child, and make sure he has an area with toys or books that help him to get calm, and get control.
8. In order for time out to be effective, "time in" has to be worthwhile.
Melinda Wenner Moyer makes this excellent point in her Slate article, "Are Timeouts Messing Up Your Kids?"
"Timeouts generally only work in positive contexts because the timeout needs to serve as a deterrent, something that takes away fun." If your daughter hits another child at a birthday party where she is generally having a blast, a timeout will probably be effective, because she really wants to keep eating cake with her friends."
That doesn't mean that an activity will always be full of fun or totally interactive — we can set high expectations for children and their behavior regardless of the environment and, let's face it, time in won't always be a party. However, if you find yourself constantly sending your kid to time out as a default, it might be time to take a second look at the activities and routine of his day or teach him some problem-solving skills. The whole idea of time out should involve getting to the point where you do have to use it very much.