Time-out certainly sounds like a brilliant fix: A child spends a few minutes sitting alone, and emerges calm and cooperative. Parents often admit that it simply doesn’t work—because their kid fights going to the time-out, cries and calls out instead of sitting quietly, or gets even more worked up afterward.
However, according to a recent study from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, 85 percent of parents who use the strategy make mistakes that can reduce its success, such as giving too many warnings or talking to their kids or letting them play with toys during time-outs. If you’re ready to become a time-out dropout, consider when they will be most effective and how you can adopt other tactics to quell your kid’s antics.
Here are some examples of time-out mistakes:
1. Using Them Too Often
Despite popular belief, time-outs aren’t supposed to be about getting children to think through their misdeeds. A time-out is primarily a ‘Let’s stop things from getting worse’ strategy. In the history of the universe, no children have ever gone to their rooms to ‘Think about what you did!’ They’re thinking about their parents’ meanness. The learning starts after the time-out, when you can say, ‘Okay, let’s try again.’
2. Giving Kids Attention During Time-Out
A time-out is essentially a mild consequence. Young kids crave attention, and even negative attention may suffice. In fact, “time-out” was originally short for “time-out from positive reinforcement". Paying attention to a child’s misbehavior can encourage him to misbehave more. Time- out should simply be the lack of parental attention for a short period of time that lets a child see that his behavior led to losing attention instead of getting it.
3. Using Them for the Wrong Reason
Research from Oklahoma State University, in Stillwater, has found that time-outs work best on young children who are oppositional and defiant by hitting or intentionally doing the opposite of what you ask, but only if you first try milder responses most of the time. When a child is put in a time-out for different types of problems or if it’s used too often for oppositional defiance, his behavior may get worse.