Time-Out: Doing it Right

1) Introduce the time-out procedure to your children. Tell them you’ll be sending them to their rooms or the back of the classroom if they misbehave. If they’re sent, they’ll have to stay in their rooms for five minutes, with their door shut. A timer will go off when their time is up, then they are welcome to come out and join you again.

2) Escort Jocelyn to her room. This avoids Jocelyn slamming her door, and you getting sucked into a power struggle. Say something like, “I saw you bong Robert over the head. I’d like you to stay in your room for five minutes.” Two sentences are enough. Sometimes you don’t even have to say why, kids know why. Once kids get used to the time-out procedure, all you’ll need to say is, “Time-out.”

3) If Jocelyn refuses to go, comes out early, screams, bangs walls, or throws things around in her room, she’ll have to stay longer in her room. The timer is set when everything is quiet, not before.

4) When time is up, Jocelyn can come out and the matter is not brought up again. Don’t explain, apologize, warn, or, worst of all, kiss and make up.

Here are a few more tips to keep in mind:

o Don’t talk too much. You’re not obligated to discuss, negotiate, or justify your actions while giving a time-out. Remember you’re withdrawing your attention, in every form. Any conversation from you only adds fuel to the fire, possibly inspiring children to misbehave again. What you can do is pick up any loose ends when children are back in the flow and behaving appropriately. Also, do not answer questions like, “How much time do I have left?” Use a timer.

o Don’t make children sit out too long. Negative consequences are symbolic acts–stretching them out doesn’t make them work any better. In fact, demanding primary grade children to sit out for any longer than five minutes is asking for trouble. Chances are they’ll start goofing around, forcing you to say something to them, or lay on another consequence. You may have to add on a few minutes for older children, or take off a couple for children who find it hard to sit still. In general, time-out works better with younger children than older ones.

o Make sure you follow through on time-out in a calm and matter-of-fact way. You’re not in control when you’re mad.

o Time-out must interrupt or directly follow a child’s wrong behavior. You can’t time-out children after school for something they did at lunch.

o Be consistent. Give Jocelyn a time-out every time she bongs someone over the head–not just when she gets on your nerves.

o “I’m not going to time-out!” If Jocelyn digs in her heels, don’t keep adding on more time. Either physically escort her there, get help, or try something else.