Time away from positive reinforcement.

A time out is the separation of a child from the situation that is causing unwanted behavior. These days this usually means that the child is sent to an empty room, although traditionally the child is sent to sit in the corner, facing the wall. It can be as little as ignoring (withdrawing attention from) the kid ("I'm not playing with you if you're doing that").

The general rule for time outs is one minute for each year of the kids age, with a limit of 5 minutes, no matter how old the kid is. You should use a timer! This keeps the time objective (you aren't going to forget the kid, or let them out early because you're in a hurry), and it also helps cut down on whining; while kids like to think they can charm/annoy anyone into letting them up earlier, they aren't likely to try this with a timer.

It is usual for a time out to include a 'no moving' clause, or the even stricter 'don't do anything fun' clause. As long as the child isn't playing with, talking to, or otherwise interacting with other people (including you) the time out should be effective. (I would suggest not allowing television or toys during time outs, tho). If the time out is because of a dispute over a toy, they toy absolutely should not be taken into time out -- that will only send the message that acting out will get you what you want.

Time outs are usually seen as a negative consequence* to undesired actions: "you did something wrong, so go sit over there!" But time outs can simply be a chance for a child who has become to excited and overwhelmed to rest, relax, and reset. Keep in mind what kind of time out your kid needs; a calming down time out can include toys, books, and even other kids.

You should always let the child know why e is being put into time out. It's often a good idea to restate the reason when letting them come out of time out, especially with younger children.

If the time out is a 'consequence', this is a good time to start/keep doing something that looks like fun -- not to be cruel, but to reinforce the idea that when you are in time out, you didn't win (by getting the teachers attention, disrupting the game, etc.), and you are missing out on the fun. It will make sure that the kid doesn't want to go into time out again, and therefor doesn't engage in those behaviors that earn time outs. The time out should end before the new fun game does, and the kid should be able to join in, have fun, and feel that e is part of the group again.

Once a time out is finished, it's finished. You might require that apologies be made, messes are cleaned up, etc. But don't hold a grudge. Be clear what is needed to pay dues, make sure it is something the child can do, and then once it is done, forget that anything ever happened. Don't hold it over the kid's head. The normal state of things should be friendly, and you need to let the kid get back to that normal state as soon as is possible.

Time outs are a form of negative reinforcement

Compare with grounding.


* These days punishment is a bad word. We're not supposed to punish children. We can let them know that their actions have consequences, tho. Some of these consequences will be negative consequences. So be it.

This is what qualifies as discipline in our kinder and gentler society these days…

Let’s assume just for a moment that precious little Sally or darling little Johnny is being a real pain in the ass. As most any parent or teacher will tell you, there could be an infinite number of reasons that they have broken from the pack. Maybe they aren’t getting enough attention or maybe they think it’s cool or something. Either way, they’ve decided to act up and disturb those around them by either engaging in verbal abuse or actually hitting or threatening another kid or adult. Sometimes these little apples of your eye might even smash things for no apparent reason other than they didn’t get their way.

Lordy, what’s a parent or teacher to do?

Option One

Call a “time out”. That’s where you drag little Sally or little Johnny away from the goings on and let them have some time to themselves so their little minds can ruminate on just how bad they’ve been behaving. Ideally, the (and I’m not making this up), “time out area” should be within eye and earshot of what’s going on so that they can see just what they’re missing and reflect upon how poorly they’re treating others in their group.

Each offense that a child commits should have a length of time associated with it in which the blessed children can ponder their behavior. For instance, if little Johnny decides to spray paint the cat, that might land him a full fifteen minutes in the dreaded “time out area”. On the other hand, should little Sally start calling her brother names, that might warrant only five. In either case, there is no time off for good behavior.

Again, I’m not making this up, since some kids apparently have difficulty with the concept of time, a kitchen timer should be used so that when the bell goes off they can spring like a boxer from their corner and return to the fun stuff.

While in “time out”, junior should not be able to talk to anyone, not even themselves. Grumbling and mumbling are forbidden behaviors. They can’t have any toys, television, music, video games or food for the length of their sentence. Should they violate these rules, they can expect a stiffer one.

Naturally the little darlings might put up a struggle when they're faced with the prospect of a time out. In order to avoid it,they might rant, they might rave, they might have to be dragged off kicking and screaming to the dreaded “time out area”. ”YOU DON”T LOVE ME! and "I HATE YOU!” are just two of the favorite ploys they might use in order to shift the blame from them to you. Just how is the authority figure to cope with that?

Well, the books says you should count all the way to three and if little Johnny or Sally still decides they don’t want to face the music, they should be threatened with an extended stay. If that doesn’t work, you’re supposed to deprive them of life and limb by threatening to take away one of their favorite things. Oh, the horror these kids face!

Then again, there’s always Option Two

Often, the mere threat of that is enough to turn them back into the little angels that we know they all are.

(Note: this was written tongue in cheek. For those kids diagnosed with ADD or ADHD it's a whole 'nuther story.)

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