I’m sure as parents or soon-to-be parents, you’ve heard of time-out. But often no one can tell you what it is. When I started using time-out, I had no clue what I was doing. Hopefully, my time-out story will help you when your child begins acting out.
When my son Andy was 3, he had a difficult time listening and staying put. Part of it had to do with his age and the other part was me.
I wasn’t a bad mom, but I did not understand that Andy was being a normal 3-year-old. I expected Andy to be able to listen and sit quietly without a problem. Wrong! I learned the hard way that Andy was not able to sit anywhere for more than 2 seconds. Andy’s time-outs were getting longer and my patience grew shorter.
I understand how difficult it is to discipline a child that isn’t behaving and is telling you, “No I don’t want to.” The first thing to understand is how your child understands you. According to The NYS ACS Handbook for Healthy Development of Children & Youth 3rd Edition (2005), children between ages 3 and 6 are learning to use sentences, count, how to dress and obey rules. It seems that this is the best time to teach children how to behave and what to do when they don’t.
Below are the time-out tips that you can use with your child.
1. Never lose your temper
If you find that you’re angry or frustrated, give yourself a time-out. Go to your room for a bit. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from your child when you feel stressed out.
2. Keep time-outs short
Sometimes we as parents think that by giving a child a long time to think about they did wrong, they will do it. Children between ages 3-6 have a short attention span and will find other ways to keep busy. For a three-year-old, time-out should be limited to three minutes; for a four-year-old, four minutes and a five-year-old, five minutes.
3. Get a timer
Using a timer will let you and your child know when time-out is over. Most microwaves have a timer, but you can also use a stop-watch or an egg timer.
4. Get talking
One of the things I did not understand about time out is that I had to talk to Andy about why he got into trouble. When taking your child to the time-out chair, explain why he or she is in time-out, how long they will be in time out, and that he or she has to wait for the timer to go off before time-out is over.
Here’s an example: Andy, you are in time-out because you did not put your toy away. You will be in time-out for five minutes. When the timer goes off, you can get up.
5. Talk after Time-out
I know this seems weird that there is so much talking. The point of time-out is not only to discipline your child, but to teach your child the importance of talking and listening. When the timer goes off, go to your child at the time-out chair and tell him or her why he or she received time-out, ask for an apology, and give a hug and kiss. A hug and a kiss will let your child know that even though he or she made a mistake, you still love and care for your child.
Example: “Andy, I gave you time-out because I told you to put your toy away and you did not do it. I would like an apology because you did not listen to me. Sorry Mommy. Thank you, Andy.”
6. Don’t give time-out all the time
When I started using time-out, I didn’t use it the right way. I gave Andy time-out a million times without thinking about his age or his ability to keep still. Now, I use a three strike system along with time-out. Andy gets three chances to listen and if he doesn’t, he gets time-out.
Give warning number one. Wait a minute or two before giving the next warning. The first is a request to put the toy away. If your child does not listen, give the first time-out warning. Repeat your request and give the second warning. The third warning is giving your child the option of putting the toy away or getting a time-out. After that, I give the time out.
Here’s what that looks like: 1) Andy, can you put your car away? 2) Andy, please put your car away or you will get a five minute time-out. 3) Put the car away now or get time-out.
Parents, using time-out well takes practice and lots of patience. It took me a couple of years to get it right before Andy could stay in time-out and know why he was punished. This is a great tool to use when everyone needs a break.
Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect child, but you can teach your child how to behave well. And make sure to give yourself a time-out when YOU need it.