Is time-out in your parenting toolbox? For most parents, this discipline strategy involves putting your child in a certain place for approximately one minute per year of the child’s age. A parent controls the event and the child is mostly passive.
Because few humans, including children, can sit for long periods, three minutes is an eon to a three year old. During a timeout, children may squirm and/or talk. Some parents may respond by lengthening the timeout and/or being harsher with the child. At this point, the time-out behavior has become the misbehavior, and the initial misbehavior is moot.
A New Time-out
I want to introduce you to a new time-out. There is no special spot or length of time, and the child is mostly in charge. Here’s how it works:
- When a parent considers a child’s behavior as misbehavior, the parent informs the child: “I notice you are (name misbehavior).”
- Tell the child what you think about that misbehavior. “(Name behavior) is not (safe, loving, helpful).”
- Tell child what he can do. “You can (name desired behavior).”
- If the child continues the misbehavior, give him a choice between two alternative activities: “You can go in your room and read a book, or you can go outside and dribble the basketball, until you are ready to (name the desired behavior).” As long as you offer common alternatives, most children will want to return to the activity that they were doing.
- As your child returns to the initial activity, acknowledge him, “I see you are going back to (name activity). You can (name desired behavior). If you (name misbehavior), (name activity) will not be a choice until the next day or tomorrow.”
It is likely that a child will misbehave when she returns to the activity (remember, learning is a life-long process). If so, tell the child, “I notice you’re (name the misbehavior). You can do this activity tomorrow.” After a few rounds of this, a child will eventually behave. “I should do the desired behavior, if I want to continue the activity,” she may think to herself.