Time Out or Not?

Most of us probably remember many L-O-N-G minutes spent in time-out as we were kids.  When considering time-out as a disciplinary action with your kids- think about this…  You REMEMBER being in time-out.  That means you were old enough to make the connection between your action and the consequence.  Research has proven time and again that time-out for children under 2 years is ineffective- they do not have the mental capacity to make the connection between what they did and why they have to, now, sit in a chair.  Children over 2 years are more capable of making the connection, but should be used sparingly. So, what do you do when your little one just won’t stay out of the dog’s water bowl?  Talk to him, and then distract him!  Little ones relish distraction.  First, tell him why he shouldn’t be playing with the dog’s water- “That water is for Cash. It stays in his bowl so he can drink it.”  Then, offer your child something else fun to do.  If you notice your child is always attempting to do the same thing (i.e. play in the dog’s water), he may be going through something developmentally that needs to be mastered before he can move on from that skill.  So, put him in the bathtub or give him a small container of water on the kitchen floor. (All water play must be supervised by an adult.)  Maybe, he is trying to figure something out about water- cause and effect: when I splash, I get wet- pouring: it’s fun to watch the water go from this bowl to the floor, etc.  Or maybe, when I play in the dog’s water, mommy talks to me.  Show your child how to learn a new skill in a way that is appropriate for your family- and do it with him to make it even more fun for everyone.

For older children (2+), time-out is a more effective discipline strategy.  However, the child must understand what they did and why it was not OK.  So again, talk to him.  Tell him, “You opened the front door without me.  That is very dangerous, you could’ve gotten hurt.  Sit here for 3 minutes.”  Research also says that if you choose to use time-out, the child should be in the same designated spot every time and should stay there for 1 minute for each year that he is old- 3 minutes for a 3 year-old, 4 minutes for a 4 year-old. etc.  At the end of time-out, talk again with your child about what he did and why he can’t do it.

As mentioned earlier, time-out should be used sparingly in order to maintain its effectiveness.

Rebecca Wilson, MS, is mother to Emogene (IC7) and is an enthusiast for all things related to young children.  She earned her Bachelors Degree in Child Development and her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education both from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  She has worked with children of all ages from birth through 3rd grade in different positions from teaching to administration to consulting.  Currently, she is a grant manager for the early childhood council in Adams County.