058 – Chapter 7 – Part 2

How to Apply Time-out In Your Home

The Purpose

The term time-out is short for “time out from positive reinforcement.”  Time-out is designed to reduce benefits to children during unacceptable behavior, specifically by withholding positive reinforcement – an important aspect of mastering the full power of the principle.

In the context of our overall approach, time-out provides a means of stopping inappropriate behaviors when you cannot wait for the other tools in the system to have that impact. With such behaviors out of the way, the positive reinforcement program can support compatible, appropriate behavior.

The Procedure

How the time-out procedure is used determines its effectiveness. Handled badly, it can be turned into punishment, with all the negative ramifications already discussed at length above. Handled well, it can be established as a potent parenting tool for containing and eliminating your children’s inappropriate behavior. To assure the constructive application of the technique, you will need fully to understand several elements.

The Test

Determine whether to use the technique simple by telling the child to stop. Notice that I did not say “ask” the child to stop.

As a mother described seven-year-old Debbie as “out-of-control,” the girl poked into things in the office. Several times the distraught mother meekly requested, “Please don’t do that,” or “Stop getting into the doctor’s things, Debbie, okay?” When Debbie banged on the windows, the mother increased her pleading with the girl to “please don’t hit the window” and “please stop.”

When the mother was advised to “Tell her to sit down in her chair,” she seemed perplexed and started to again plead with the girl. Urged again to “Tell her to sit down in her chair,” she repeated, “Debbie, sit down in your chair.” Debbie looked at her mother for a moment and then immediately sat down. The relieved but perplexed mother asked, “Why did she do that?” clearly indicating confusion about the difference between a request and a demand. Fortunately, a few weeks later she reported that Debbie was much more cooperative, a change that she attributed to her new insight and her own changed parenting style.

Most of us, taught to be polite, feel we should ask, rather than demand, even requesting that children “please” stop and adding “. . .okay?” at the end of the sentence. Either of these is seen by the child as offering a choice. While there are many times when it is appropriate to give children choices, the times when parents have determined a behavior is inappropriate are not among them.

Of course if your child stops when told to, you don’t need to use time-out.

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The clash between child and adult is never so stubborn as when the child within us confronts the adult in our child.

                                                                         ~Robert Brault

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If your child does not stop, you may wish to tell the child a second time to stop. For maximum effectiveness, here is a very useful rule of thumb:

Never tell your child to “stop” more than twice before taking effective action to assure it happens, including when using time-out.

While a mother shopped in a small clothing store, her little girl tried repeatedly to get out of the stroller. When the mother noticed, she said, “Don’t do that, okay?” or “Please sit down,” taking no other action. When the child got free, she pushed the stroller into a clothing rack. The mother spanked the child harshly while yelling, “I told you not to get out!” Because this mother had fussed but did nothing else, the child could not know when her mother would be serious about the matter.

Parents who give more than one or two instructions to stop rarely follow-through consistently. Nor can children recognize when “warnings” might give way to action. To avoid unnecessary confusion and afford your child the best chance to meet your expectations, make it clear from the outset that what Mom or Dad says must be taken seriously when it is first said. Children simply can’t learn much from rules that are enforced inconsistently.

Whether you say “stop” once or twice, if the child does not comply the test for whether to use time-out has been passed and it is time to proceed.


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