When it comes to disciplining children the divide could not be greater. One parent will discover a magical fix all, and another will call it abuse. And the “experts” are little help. Because they can’t make a living selling common sense, they feel the need to poke holes in the traditional ways, and sell modern money-back-guaranteed methods in their books.
So, when I heard that the latest form of controversial discipline is timeout I had to laugh, “Here we go again.”
Both sides make reasonable cases; one arguing that timeout is highly effective and the other claiming it leaves children psychologically scarred. Instead of enlightening parents, these types of arguments serve as a form of parenting paralysis where parents fear acting and are afraid of not acting.
There is really no need for all of this. There are millions, probably billions of kids raised on timeouts, and we don’t see any (that I know of) rushing to therapists to deal with their timeout-induced abandonment disorders. So if you use timeouts, don’t worry, I don’t think that you are destroying your children’s fragile lives.
On the other hand, there is a legitimate criticism of the practice. And instead of disregarding them completely, or being persuaded to retire a useful disciplinary measure, we might use their criticism to refine our practices.
For instance, it is true that many parents overuse timeout, or misuse timeout. When they don’t have time to deal with their children’s behavior, they send them packing to the corner not as a means to correct the behavior, but in order to avoid it.
So, here are some practical tips to help you perfect the art of timeout.
6 Tips for Using Timeouts to Discipline
1. Be consistent. This tip is the simplest to understand, but the hardest to carry out. You can’t ignore bad behavior and then try to make up for it with an extra long timeout several infractions later.
2. Don’t forget. I do this all the time. I put my kid in timeout and forget that they are there. My kids sit patiently, until what I meant as a 2 minute refocus break turns into a 20 minutes tear-fest. Feeling really guilty, I break the first rule, “Be Consistent,” because I feel the need to cut my children some slack the next time, after accidentally over-correcting.
3. Neither short, nor long. If the timeout is too short, it won’t work. And while I would say that if you must err, it is better to err on the side of too long, we still want to be reasonable if we expect our children to respect our rules. Excessively long timeouts exceed the useful threshold and venture to end in bitterness.
4. Let Attitude be Your Guide. Make sure that your child has accepted the timeout and is ready to improve. If they still have a spirit of rebellion then they need to go straight back to timeout.
It is really simple: ask for an apology and if they give you that and a hug, you know they have taken the timeout to heart, but if they glare and continue to argue and make excuses, they need a few more minutes to reflect in the corner.
5. Timeout is No Cure-All. Consider timeout one of many tools in your discipline tool belt. There are times that it will work best and other times that you can make it work, and still other times that it simply won’t work. That doesn’t mean you disregard it; just use it wisely, when appropriate.
Disciplining children is mostly an art. No matter what claims behavior psychologists make, you don’t have to buy what they are selling. If you went to their homes you’d find them dealing with the exact same discipline struggles that you are. Consider their opinions, but always let common sense rule the day.
6. When Timeouts Don’t Work. Timeouts are great for reflection and refocusing, but they seldom work on temper tantrums. Yes, your kid may sit in timeout and eventually wear himself out, but that is the exhaustion ending the fit, not the timeout.
I use timeout when the behavior is mild and neglectful, but when it comes to bad attitudes I’m not as nice. I have a zero tolerance and my discipline is swift and strict. Timeouts rarely work for bad attitudes because until the attitude is adjusted the kids plot revenge, instead of planning an apology.
I’d love to hear your views! Do you discipline your children? Do timeouts give you results? Leave a comment below.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.