Time-out is an often a misunderstood discipline technique for parents. There are many differing opinions on this subject among professionals who work with children and parents. No matter at what age the child may be, positive guidance strategies are preferable such as specific praise, distraction, redirection, prevention and many more. While there can be a place for this technique for children the appropriate age when dangerous and destructive behavior is involved, time-out should not be used with children under 3. Some professionals even feel the child should be at least 3 ½ or 4 when it is used. The author of this article agrees with these viewpoints. On the other side, many professionals tell parents of very young children to put their children in time-out which creates a lot of confusion.
Why time-out doesn’t work for little ones who are under 3
Children at these young ages are not able to reason yet. They will start using their thinking skills due to some brain development at 3 and they will build gradually. When young children are sent to time out, they could feel abandoned, unable to regulate and calm themselves, and angry at who sent them. Young children do not understand cause and effect and have no way of connecting their behavior to the consequence. Another important reason it doesn’t work is that it doesn’t teach what the child should do instead – the replacement skill.
Better options than time-out
1. Distract and redirect. Young children are not intentionally trying to upset us. When they play with a beautiful plant on the coffee table or keep dropping their sippy cup on the floor, it is due to their strong curiosity and/or their desire to get their caregivers’ attention. Scolding them or putting them in time-out won’t change the behavior. Instead, it will most likely cause it to increase because it got attention. It can be helpful to focus your child on an object or activity they can do.
2. Prevention. Adults have complete brains and the ability to think about cause and effect. Since young children want to touch everything they see, it can lower all of our frustration by moving things we don’t want damaged out of their contact. Also, tantrums and crying are enhanced when children are tired and hungry so think ahead if at all possible to manage these states in your child.
3. Positive time-out. Young children are still developing the ability to self-regulate and don’t have the skills to calm themselves down. Jane Nelsen and Cheryl Erwin in Positive Time-Out discuss spending time with the child to help them learn to self-regulate in the presence of a calm adult and reading, hugging or other activities that accomplish this. In the childcare setting there is often a “cozy corner” set up to serve this purpose and the same can be done at home.
4. Specific praise. Instead of focusing on behavior we don’t want to increase, remember to watch for behavior that we want to see. Punishing young children for behavior we don’t want is not likely to stop it. This is something that generations of parents have been doing. Children need to be shown through attention to their positive, appropriate actions what they need to repeat.
It can not be said enough that young children have so much to learn and under developed brains. Time-out used in the traditional manner is a punishment and unless needed for special circumstances at the appropriate age will not get us the effect we want. The time-out strategy takes the child away from the very person that can teach them the skills they need to gain.
For more information on ways to improve relationships with your children, parent coaching, workshops and classes, contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Elevated Parenting at www.facebook.com/ElevatedParenting.