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The Secret to Timeouts That Actually Work With Kids

Posted by on Jun. 8, 2013 at 9:55 AM
  • 8 Replies

The Secret to Timeouts That Actually Work With Kids

by Jeanne Sager

timeout clockWhen it comes to discipline techniques in America, timeout has become increasingly popular ... thanks, no doubt, to the increasing number of us who refuse to follow the spanking route of our parents' generation. Personally, I'm a hardcore fan. It's been my go-to for tantrums for years. So I'm always surprised when parents insist that timeout just doesn't work.

I'd beg to differ. 

Timeout does work! Even better ... if you're doing timeout right, you end up not needing timeout at all. But only if you're doing it right!

Yes, as it turns out, there IS a right and a wrong way to do this.

How do I know? Because for awhile there, I was doing it wrong. And it turns out, I'm not alone.

The folks at Slate did a break-down of timeout no-nos this week, and one thing really jumped out at me:

Another common misconception is that you have to physically isolate a child during a timeout. The important thing is not where your child is but that he doesn’t get to interact with anything interesting, including you. This means that you can initiate timeouts in strollers, cars, chairs, even on the changing table—the key is to withhold attention and eye contact for a certain period of time or as long as the bad behavior persists.

Confession time: for awhile there, we couldn't help it. We interacted with our daughter during timeout.

She'd be in her room, technically isolated from us physically, but when she'd yell down the stairs (her bedroom is on the second floor of our house), we'd answer back, if only to tell her to be quiet. When she'd angrily throw things out of her room, we'd pick them up, or tell her that she shouldn't be throwing things. We'd threaten to add to her time in her room for additional bad behavior.

This went on, I'm ashamed to admit, for months.

I was at my wits' end. My generally pretty good-hearted and fairly well-behaved (I say fairly ... she is still a kid, after all!) daughter was becoming increasingly difficult and at time downright bratty.

And then I had a talk with our school psychologist, whose daughters happen to share a dance class with mine.

Her advice?

Ignore her.


No matter what she does.

I can't say that I was surprised to hear it. I'd been suspicious that we were just feeding her negativity. Negative attention is better than no attention, right?

But it was so hard! She was naughty, how could we NOT do something about it? Wasn't that just rewarding her bad behavior?

My heart told me one thing, but my head told me we just couldn't go on like this. And this woman -- who knows my child and likes her -- had to be on to something.

And here's where the story gets really good. We started ignoring her.

And slowly, the bad behavior disappeared. It wasn't instantaneous -- we had a pattern of behavior based on months of problems to undo here.

But over time, she was better in timeout. Better than that, the need for timeouts decreased.

We're now more than a year out from that harrowing time, and I can't remember the last time I actually used a timeout. Wait, I can. It was March. We're in June now. We've gone three whole months without a timeout in our house.

It's not that she's never naughty, but it's almost never that bad. These days a talk is usually enough. Ironically, getting discipline right enabled us to make discipline almost completely unnecessary.

I think it's hard for us as parents to go against the way we've always done things, to admit that maybe we're making mistakes with our kids. I know it was hard for me.

But if you don't feel like timeouts are working, maybe it's not the timeout. Maybe it's you.

Think about it.

Do you use timeouts with your kids? Do they work?

by on Jun. 8, 2013 at 9:55 AM
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Replies (1-8):
by on Jun. 8, 2013 at 3:34 PM
THANK YOU! I struggle with the programming of my upbringing and trying to implement techniques that are much more effective; I too have failed miserably. This tactic will be used from this point on.
by on Jun. 9, 2013 at 1:47 PM

 They work for a brief time after the time out, but then it is right back to the same behavior. 

by on Jun. 12, 2013 at 8:54 AM
Quoting ScrChk23:

 They work for a brief time after the time out, but then it is right back to the same behavior. 

I think that consistency is the key. If the offending behavior resumes in a short time, go back to the timeout immediately. That way your child learns to adapt his/her own behavior, because he/she knows exactly what to expect.
by on Jul. 3, 2013 at 12:44 PM

I do use timeouts sometimes.

by on Jul. 3, 2013 at 2:42 PM
We don't really do timeouts. They don't really work with my kids
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by on Jul. 3, 2013 at 5:41 PM

I wish that I could show this article to my friend, but she is not on CM. Her twins know how to push her buttons.

by on Jul. 4, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Another tip I've learned with time outs is to leave them in time out for 5 minutes after they've calmed down.  This gives them time to really show that they are past the tantrum & are ready to behave.  You can also tell them they are free to come out as soon as they are ready to be kind & sweet & if they misbehave right after the time out, say "uh oh, looks like you aren't ready to be kind & sweet" and put them back in time out.

by on Jul. 4, 2013 at 1:26 PM

We are past the time out stage, but we called them sit and watch. S had to sit away from the family til she calmed down, while watching us do whatever we were doing. It workedcfor her.

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