At what age should I start using time-outs with my child?
Time-outs are typically very effective consequences for children as young as 16 months when they throw tantrums or display some other type of negative or undesirable behavior. There are a couple of things to keep in mind to ensure your child will understand the meaning and purpose behind a time-out. Here are a few basics when it comes to using time-outs:
- Length – The number of minutes a time-out lasts should equal the child’s age. So if your daughter is 2, give her a two-minute time-out.
- Location – Choose a quiet place, away from toys and games, where your child can sit alone and where you can see him or her.
- Purpose – For very young children, under age 3, explain in two or three words why they are in a time-out. For older children, limit your explanation to a sentence or two.
- Practice – After the time-out is over, show your child exactly what you want him to do instead of the bad behavior that earned him a time-out. Then practice the good behavior together for a few minutes.
Above all, be consistent and calm as you issue time-outs. Remember that their purpose is not to punish your child but to train him or her to learn and use respectful, helpful and positive social skills and behaviors.
Our 3-year-old daughter throws items when we try to take them away from her. She then gets very angry. Is this normal, and how do we stop it?
The behavior you describe is indeed very normal, but that does not mean that it should not be corrected. You need to implement a two-prong plan. First, you need to issue a consequence for the inappropriate behavior. Then you need to teach a more appropriate behavior to replace the negative one. Take into consideration her age and developmental level when issuing consequences and substituting behaviors.
An interaction with a 3-year-old might sound like this:
“You just threw your toy. We don’t throw toys.” (You are naming the negative behavior so she knows what she has done is wrong.)
“No more toy,” or “Your toy is in time-out.” (This is the consequence for her inappropriate behavior. It is simple enough for her to understand.)
“We put toys away nicely.” (While saying this, show her what this desired behavior looks like by putting the toy away nicely.)
After the toy has been in time-out for a few minutes, have her accompany you to retrieve it from time-out. Then ask her to put the toy away nicely like you have just shown her. You will keep her attention if this interaction takes only a few minutes. Though brief and simple, you will most likely have to repeat this several times before she understands or complies. This, too, is normal. Be consistent with her. It will pay off.
If something is happening prior to the toy being removed, address that issue separately. If she is not following instructions and is losing the privilege of playing with the toy, then you will need to teach her how to follow instructions using the simple steps listed above.
I have been trying to use timeout with my 5-year-old daughter, but she won’t stay. I require her to sit for one minute for every year of age, or five minutes. She will sometimes stay for a few minutes, but at other times, she refuses to sit at all. I am spending a lot of time chasing her around the house. Please, how do I get her to stay in timeout?
For starters, please put away your running shoes. Many parents are frustrated by their children’s resistance or refusal to stay in timeout. Believe it or not, the fact that your daughter refuses to stay in timeout is actually a good thing. That mean that she does not like to be away from the fun and enjoyable activities of your household, even for a few minutes. Timeout is not fun for her, and it is not supposed to be! Whether your child is leaving the timeout location because she is trying to avoid it or is attempting to gain additional attention from you, there are a number of steps that you can take to teach your daughter to remain in timeout.
- Have a matter-of-fact conversation with your daughter about the purpose of timeout and the importance of her remaining there. Describe for her those behaviors that will result in a timeout as well as those positive behaviors that you would like to see from her.
- Pick a good timeout location. An ideal place might be a chair facing a corner with no windows, or a stairway that is somewhat isolated. Your daughter should not be able to see a television or be able to observe other activities going on about the house.
- Set a timer for a small amount of time at first. You might start with 30 seconds or one minute. This will help your daughter learn to stay in timeout more easily. Once you have had greater success with teaching her to remain in timeout, the amount of time can be gradually increased until it is having a meaningful impact on her behavior. Using a timer will also reduce her frequent complaints and requests to you for timeout to end. The timer will speak for you.
- Tell your daughter that she will need to remain in timeout until the timer sounds. If she leaves, return her to timeout and reset the timer to the original time.
- While your child is in timeout, make sure that NOTHING happens involving your daughter. That means that neither you nor anyone else in the house (including the dog) should respond to her questions, complaints, and so forth.
- Once timeout has ended, have your daughter either correct the situation that sent her to timeout in the first place (e.g., apologize for hitting, clean up a mess, etc.) or finish complying with the request that she had refused to complete (e.g., “Pick up your toysand put them away”).
- Don’t take good behavior for granted during the day. Offer frequent praise for those behaviors you want to see in your daughter.
My son is hitting and pushing at school. His teacher administers time-outs at school. At home I have used reward charts and have given him time-outs. Nothing seems to work.
We often tell our children to not continue negative behavior, but we forget to tell them what positive behaviors we want to see instead. When your son becomes frustrated or angry with others, he hits or pushes.
- Tell him you would like him to keep his hands to himself and use his words to express his feelings. Another option is to ask his teacher for help. Teach him that whenever someone frustrates him he needs to put his hands in his pockets. If he does not have pockets, he needs to put his “handcuffs” on, meaning that he puts his hands behind his back and holds his wrists.
- Give him a good kid-related reason to do what you are teaching. Point out the benefits to him for doing it this way.
- Have him practice. Demonstrate what you mean. Check his understanding by having him demonstrate it back.
For example, take a situation that has happened in the past at school in which your son hit or pushed a classmate. Then show your son the new way to handle the conflict. Practice daily at home because the more he becomes familiar with this new way, the more likely he will be to use it in the heat of the moment. Praise him when he uses it, and be patient. It takes time to replace old behaviors with new ones.
It is good that you are using consequences. The more immediately that they occur after the infraction, the more likely your son will see the connection between poor choices and negative consequences. A time-out is an appropriate consequence. We suggest that you fill the time-out with practicing his new behavior because consequences paired with teaching is an effective way to bring about change.
My 7-year-old son is beginning to hate school. He is impulsive and as a result, often has to sit apart from his classmates. This consequence only intensifies his behavior. I have provided suggestions on how to handle his impulsiveness, but the school’s staff will only administer the school’s policy of separation. He is not trying to be defiant, and he is now feeling like he is being punished for who he is, not for what he is doing. He feels singled out. What are my options?
This situation, if allowed to continue, will hamper his education. So you must act now to stop it from continuing. Did your son go to preschool? How was his kindergarten experience? Preschool and kindergarten are when impulsive behaviors are dealt with through redirection, teaching and practicing more appropriate responses.
Impulsive behavior is normal; we all have impulses. As we grow and develop, we learn to curb our impulses through social interaction. How other people respond to our behavior helps clue us in to whether or not that behavior is acceptable. We adjust our behavior in order to get positive reactions from those around us.
In school, the social reaction to a student’s impulsive behavior is separation from the group in the “safe seat” or “buddy room.” While there, he is missing out on classroom fun and educational instruction.
Some children do not connect their behaviors and the consequences of their behaviors very quickly. It takes administering consistent and repeated responses before a child learns that his behavior is linked to the consequences.
Your son has not made the connection yet. Perhaps he is strong-willed or stubborn, and thus it may take more time. Don’t be surprised if the behavior worsens at first. This is common but not long-lasting.
There are steps you can take to help your son with this developmental lesson. First, you must support the school’s staff and their policy on how to handle impulsive behavior. Second, find out what is occurring at school directly prior to the inappropriate behavior. Work with your son each day after school by teaching and then practicing a more acceptable behavior to use in place of his unacceptable behavior.
The goal is to teach him the necessary social skills to succeed in the classroom and wherever else life takes him. You can work on this by using a three-step approach that we call Preventive Teaching:
- Describe the positive behavior. Be very clear and demonstrate it if necessary.
- Give him a reason to do it this way. Make this reason a “kid” reason that shows him how he will benefit from doing it this way.
- Have him practice what you just taught him. Keep it brief and make it fun.
The comment about being “punished for who he is” is not likely his words, but something he heard an adult say. Kids will say whatever they need to in order for their parents to take their side and defend them, whether they are truly the victims of the situation or not.
You are not trying to change his personality. Neither is the school’s staff. The goal is to help your son succeed and be happier in an environment that he will be in for many years to come.
My fiancé has a 3-year-old stepson who, until now, was splitting his time between our home and his mother’s home. I was around when he learned how to talk, and he has called me “mommy” without any prompting from us. He tells us he has two mommies. We respond by telling him that he is lucky to have so many people who love him.
He is now staying with us full time, and he sees his mother only on occasional weekends and holidays. The problem we are having with him has slowly been building. The difference now is that I don’t have a break from it since he lives with us full time. He no longer listens; he yells “No” to everything; and he hits, kicks and screams if he does not get his way. Now he has decided that he won’t speak to me.
I am very upset about his silent treatment, wondering what I did to deserve this. I take care of him as if he was my own child, and he wants nothing to do with me. My heart is breaking. My fiancé is frustrated with him for his behavior and with me because I am so upset. I don’t even want to pick him up at preschool, but I will keep doing it because I am committed to him and to my fiancé. Please help. I just want him to love me back.
What you are facing is not unusual. Young children often go into a refusal phase when they become contrary and say “No” a lot. Things can improve. First, show him the power of “No” yourself by punishing him with time-outs. Send him to his room or a corner where he won’t have any toys to play with. Make this punishment common and consistent for tantrums and outbursts. Make sure your fiancé and his son’s mother (if this is possible) do the same.
Consistency is very important. The more consistent you can be, the quicker he will learn not to throw tantrums. Once he starts to understand that his behavior has consequences, he may come around to learning the right behavior.
Investigate his behavior at preschool. If he is throwing tantrums there, find out what form of punishment his teachers are administering. They might have ideas on what you can do at home.
It is also important to take care of yourself. Ask your fiancé to take over more of his son’s care, especially if he can reinforce your discipline by saying things like, “Listen to your mother; she’s right” and “Both your mother and I love you very much, and we need you to love us back and show that by listening.” Ask your fiancé to help you rebuild your relationship with your stepson, even if it frustrates your fiancé.
When it gets to be too much, take a break. Go for a walk, draw a bath or even just take a few deep breaths. When he gives you the silent treatment, parent calmly. If he won’t tell you what he wants for dinner, make him something. If he won’t tell you goodnight when you put him to bed, tuck him in and kiss him on the forehead all the same.
My 6-year-old granddaughter lives with me. For the past two years, her mother has had visitation rights. My granddaughter has become increasingly violent. She kicks and hits when I put her in time-out. I do not want to hit her back, but I don’t know what to do. I am bruised and battered, as she is very strong.
The fact that your granddaughter is using aggression to express her feelings is concerning. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she is learning this behavior from any one source though. It could just mean that she has emotions that don’t feel good and she does not know what to do with them. You need to teach her how to handle these emotions in a more appropriate way. It is not OK for you to be battered and bruised.
During a neutral time, work with your granddaughter on ways she can calm herself down. Talk about things that make her angry or sad, such as hearing “no” or being put in time-out. Then talk about the things she can do when she gets mad. She can squeeze a wet washcloth, do jumping jacks or count backwards from 10.
Another option for younger children is teaching them to blow out their “birthday candles.” He or she holds up the number of fingers that represents their age, and they pretend these fingers are candles. Then they take a large breath and blow out their candles one by one. Each time they blow out a candle, they fold that finger down.
Whichever calming tool you choose, have her practice it daily. It is a good idea to have a couple of them in mind in case one is not working on a particular day.
It is important for her to learn that hitting is unacceptable. She must learn to deal with her frustrations without violence because frustrations are a part of life. When she is older, she can’t go around hitting people when she is upset. Our goal is to help her lead a successful life. Learning to curb her violent tendencies will help her achieve this goal.
I am seeing destructive behavior in my 4-year-old, and I am having trouble understanding why this is. I have been unsuccessful at teaching him self-control.
Please know that all 4-year-old boys enjoy crashing their cars and stomping on sand castles. They turn sticks into swords and point them at undeserving objects. These behaviors do not necessarily result from exposure to violent acts. They are actually considered age-appropriate behaviors.
Because you don’t want them to continue or worsen, calmly stop the behavior and issue a consequence (perhaps taking the toy away or putting him in time-out). Teach a more appropriate way to play, and have him demonstrate or practice it by playing gently with a toy.
Teaching self-control to your son is a wonderful thing to be doing. Teach it at a neutral time when he is not upset. Validate that we all have strong emotions such as anger, but it is how we communicate these feelings that can be helpful or harmful. If we express ourselves in negative ways, we can get ourselves into trouble.
Offer him some examples of negative responses to which he can relate. If we express our feelings in positive ways, it can be helpful to us. Again, offer concrete examples of this concept to your son.
Then talk to him about some calming techniques that he can use when he gets upset. You can try deep breathing by “blowing out his birthday candles”: Have him hold up four fingers since that is how old he is. After taking a deep breath, he should blow on one finger and fold it down. Then he should do the same with the next three fingers until all four of them are folded down.
Another calming technique is to have him put himself in time-out by saying, “Mom, I am mad!” He then should close his eyes and count to 20 or 30. Teach him as many calming techniques that you can think of. Be patient and practice them daily. When you see him beginning to get upset, prompt or remind him to try one of these techniques. This will save him from getting into trouble in many situations because he can exhibit self-control.
My oldest son, who is 7, has tried to choke me and his younger brother. What can I do to keep him from acting out in this way? What steps should I take to improve his anger-control problems?
It sounds like his anger is a big problem for him. You always want to make sure that you and your family are safe from any type of harm. The choking behavior is concerning, so we suggest taking him to a child psychologist or a pediatrician. These individuals can help you determine the reasons for this behavior. Trying to get to the problem now while he is young will help ensure that he and others are safe in the long run.
Whenever he does choke or act out in your home, remove him from the situation. Sitting him in time-out until he calms down is a good option. Send him to a designated area away from toys and entertainment. The general rule of thumb is that a child should be in time-out one minute for each year of his life. So your son should be in time-out for seven minutes. The time-out should not start until he is calm.
Remember that giving your son a negative consequence is not only done to punish his behavior, but to teach him the appropriate behaviors as well. After he is finished with the time-out, tell him exactly why he was put there and what he should have done differently. Be as specific as possible to eliminate any confusion.
Since self-control is a struggle for him, practice this with him: Find alternative ways for him to calm down and cope when he starts to feel aggravated. He can go outside and sit down, squeeze a washcloth or stress ball or do jumping jacks to release energy. You know him best. Try to think of some things that will calm him down safely and effectively without harming him or others.
How old is too old for time-outs?
A time-out can be used at nearly any age as long as it has the desired effect as a consequence. As our children get older and lose privileges or are grounded, those are forms of time-outs.
When your child is young, a time-out is one of the most effective consequences you can use when he misbehaves. You remove your child from the good things in life for a small amount of time immediately after he misbehaves. It is a great way to discipline without raising your hand or your voice. A time-out is simply having your child sit in one place for a certain amount of time (one minute for each year of life).
Time-outs continue to be effective as long as your child would rather be playing or engaging in an activity than sitting still and doing nothing. An example of an older child’s time-out would be during a hockey game. Players who violate the rules are put in time-out, and they have to sit and watch rather than participate or play in the game. It works because they would rather play than watch.