Time outs are a common and accepted form of punishment today for parents and caregivers alike. As far as forms of punishment go, there are many compelling reasons to give your child a time out instead of resulting to other physical forms of punishment. Taking a time out can help your child calm down and be able to make better choices; however, the “time-out” is often overused and misused by parents.
Time-outs are not always the answer. Most misbehavior a child exhibits are a sign of a bigger emotional problem. If your child throws a temper-tantrum because he cannot play with the green car, there is a good chance his temper-tantrum is about much more than the car. In order to discover what else could be bothering him, you need to sit and spend some time with him. When you instantly send him out of the room away from you for getting upset, it does not help him to fix his problem. In fact it usually makes his problem much worse.
Give your child a “time-in” instead. Sending your child away from you will only work to make the underlying issue worse. Instead, have him sit next to you for a certain period of time. This will serve two purposes. First, it will help him to calm down and think more clearly, which is the ultimate goal of a “time-out.” Second, it will reassure him that he will not be left alone to figure out how to act. Third, it will give you a chance to discover what might be the underlying issue he is struggling with. When possible, you should sit with your child during this time, but if you are unable to do that, having him in the same room to you or at the seat next to you can make a big difference.
Let the “time-in” be over when the child is ready. Parents often set timers or select an appropriate time for the child to be punished. Unfortunately, this often does not help him learn to ultimately control his behaviors. Setting a time implies that at the end of the time, he should be acting “right,” but if there is an underlying issue at play, this will likely not be the case. Instead, give your child the power to control when he is ready to re-enter play time. Tell him that when he is ready to act, talk and play in a helpful or kind manner, he can return to his toys. This gives your child the choice. Perhaps he really needs some time away from other children or simply is craving some time next to you. By giving him the control over when his time-in is over, you empower him to make his own choices.
Give yourself a time-out. When your day has been long, you are exhausted and your child behaves in a less than desirable manner, it can be very difficult to remain calm. This is when frustration and yelling occurs most often in the home. Instead of sending your child away because you are frustrated, try walking away from the situation yourself. Taking an adult time-out can help your child more than you might realize. It models an appropriate way to handle anger and frustration. It helps you to regain your composure so you can better address the issues your child is facing and it helps you to react to your child in the way you want to.
Though there certainly are times that it is in the child’s best interest to be sent into a time-out, most of the time the best discipline for a child is more time with you. That is most likely what your child’s underlying need is to begin with.