Back to our discussion about time out. Last time, we discussed the prep work. Today we are going to discuss technique. Let me start by saying that there are a number of different techniques out there. Using the "toolbox" approach to parenting, you have to find a technique that feels comfortable to you. This may or may not be it -- it is up to you to decide. I do know that it has worked with many families over the years. The approach described here is very behavioral in nature.
Before I get into the specifics, let me be clear that it is not easy! It requires a lot of hard work on your part. For this reason, some parents find it too daunting. It requires change on our part and most of us find change a very difficult thing. If it were easy, no one would be overweight, smoke and we would all exercise on a regular basis. But like anything that is difficult, their is a payoff in the end -- a healthier body, or in the case of discipline, better behaved children! Having said all that, here is the technique:
- Respond with an immediate empathetic statement when your child exhibits an undesirable behavior. For example, "How sad" or "What a bummer." Find one that you feel comfortable with and follow it with a statement pointing out the undesirable behavior. Here is an example: "How sad, you hit me. You need to go to time out." The concept of the empathetic statement comes from the Love and Logic parenting approach. Click here to learn more. By using the same statement each time your child misbehaves, you are helping to establish that neural pathway in the brain that says "Crap! I've screwed up!" when they hear it. Notice the "I" in that last statement? We want them thinking about what THEY have done, not how we are responding.
- Have the child go to the designated time out area. You may have to physically direct young children to the time out area. Try to minimize physical contact during the process so as to decrease the likelihood of reinforcing (more about that in a moment!) undesirable behaviors. If you have a little one who won't stay in time out, you can position yourself and them in such a way that it minimizes their opportunity to escape. For example, place them in a corner and stand near them in a strong stance (e.g., legs shoulder width apart, back turned away from them, etc.). Notice, I did not say and INTIMIDATING stance -- we don't want to scare them! We just want them to see from our body posture that we mean business (remember, about 85% of communication is body language!). If you must, re-direct them physically back to the area at each attempt to escape. After a while, they will learn that no matter how many times they try to get out you are going to put them back.
- Give as little reinforcement as possible while your child is in time out. This is key! Children will take whatever attention they can get -- positive OR negative! The quickest way to extinguish a behavior is to ignore it. This can be hard to do when kids are screaming, kicking and the like. (By the way, you should move out of kicking/hitting range. If they come after you, you may have to move them to their room to "cool off.") Once you have told the child the reason they are in time out, say nothing more. All those ugly behaviors are attempts to engage you in dialogue which to them means they might be able to get their way. Here's the premise: Consider you work in an office building. You pass the same person in the hall every morning on your way into the building. Every morning, you say "hello," but the person walking past says nothing and doesn't even look at you. How many more times are you going to say "hello" before you decide it isn't worth the trouble? Same premise with minimizing your contact during the time out process. No words. Use as little physical contact as possible and avoid eye contact.
- Don't discuss the reason they were in time out when it is done. This is a hard one for lots of us! Parents have a tendency to lecture kids after time out, but this steals their opportunity for learning. When we lecture, kids start thinking about our reaction again instead of their poor choice. When they have completed time out to your satisfaction, call them out and say something to the effect of "There's my sweet kid! Let's go play outside." Depending on the infraction that occurred, you may then ask for an apology if warranted, but keep it sweet and simple, e.g., "You hurt Joey. You need to tell him that you are sorry."
Are any of you familiar with Supernanny? Her approach to kids who get out of bed at night is a perfect example of a behaviorally based discipline approach. She suggests that the parent tell the children the first time they get out of bed that it is time for bed while they redirect them to their bedroom. In all subsequent attempts, the parents redirect the children back to their bed without any discussion. The parents keep this up until the children eventually give up which they do...eventually.
I know, I know, this all sounds like a lot of work. I won't lie -- it is. But to use an old cliche "No pain, no gain."
How do you handle time out? Do you have any tips to share to ease the process? Post your thoughts and suggestions.