How to Apply Time-out in Your Home (continued)
First, when applying the time-out technique, intervene before over-taxing your own patience and internal controls. Telling your child to “stop” no more than twice supports this. You can’t be effective if you fuss at your child until you are upset and you end up angrily screaming, “I told you to calm down!”
Second, when you decide to use the time-out technique, go to your child. If you yell from another room you may not be heard or the child may recognize that you can’t know for sure, and you will get little result. If you then get angry and yell louder, you may feed a power struggle, a sure way to defeat time-out. Whether you go down that path or not, you will have no way to know if the child is complying with your directive. To be effective, go to the child, go through the technique carefully, and then follow through as needed.
The first time you use time-out
To assure your family the best possible experience with time-out, arrange to use it your first time on a day and under circumstances that will have you at your best, such as a weekend when you have time and energy to devote to a complete and positive outcome. With this starting point, you will be more likely to have the necessary patience to carry out the required steps. Think of this as your project for the day, much as you might make cleaning the garage or painting a room, and be prepared to follow through as needed.
The place for time-out
Identify a place in your home suitable for time-out, a spot you can expect to support your child in calming.
In our home, a chair in our little-used living room became the “quiet chair,” and it was used whenever one of our two sons needed time for calming. We found the term “quiet” itself to carry with it a soothing tone. (Try saying it aloud and listen to how it sounds to you.)
Occasionally when several friends were over and play became especially active and intense, one of our sons would leave the group and sit in the quiet chair for a few minutes, as if to regroup. Each seemed to have found benefit in taking time to regain his composure, internalizing the process used to help both boys before they could do it for themselves.
Avoid any spot in your house previously associated with angry interchanges, since it will be difficult to calm down in a punitive place.
Many experts stress placing the child in a bleak and unrewarding place, such as the corner that is the focus of so many cartoons. This notion may be a leftover from treating time-out as a milder form of punishment, when the intention was to inflict enough discomfort for the child to “get the message.” Since the most effective goal of time-out is to assure that a child who is unresponsive to parental limits has a break from activities to recover composure, there may be no reason to choose a time-out area that is bleak or forbidding. In many smaller homes, a child’s room may be the only practical choice, and experience shows that time-out can work very well there.
A prototype of the technique
To illustrate the constructive use of the time-out technique, consider the following prototype time-out statement to a child:
Ron (or Ron and Kim), I told you to calm down. I see that it is hard for you to stop right now. It’s not good to be out of control, so I’m going to help you. Go to the quiet chair. Stay there until you feel calm inside. Then come back and check with me so I can know you are calm too.
You may note that the term “time-out” is not used in this prototype statement. By itself the term means very little. And even if you have never used the term, if your child has heard it used in a threatening or negative fashion, that experience could thoroughly taint your use of the process.
While the wording used in the prototype could be adapted somewhat to your own style, it is important to preserve both the tone and the focus on your non-critical intention to support your child’s regaining composure.
Of course if you have been using time-out successfully in the past, you have no reason to change what you have been doing.
The time in time-out
Many child specialists recommend that a child stay in time-out for a set time, typically about one minute per year of age, up to ten minutes or so. If you have successfully used this standard, there is no reason to change anything. Otherwise, I recommend you have the child “stay until you feel calm inside,” allowing your child to determine the length based on what it takes to regain composure. For children who may need little time, insisting that they stay longer will likely be upsetting and defeat the intent of calming them. For those who may need longer to regain their composure, returning to other activities too soon will likely result in renewed disruptive behavior. Better that the child’s own internal needs determine the time away from preferred activities than to rely on a arbitrary time limit that does not take the individual child or current circumstances into account at all.
Time-out with more than one child
If two or more children fail to comply when told to stop some activity, send them to separate quiet areas, preferably beyond earshot of each other, to avoid communication between them. Instead of playing police officer, judge, or jury when either child insists, “He started it,” simply declare that since the children are unable to be together, they each must go to the specified quiet place and each must stay until achieving internal calm.