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Do You Need A ‘Time-Out’ Strategy?

Team StoryWeavers|January 25, 2021|

Things That Will Change The Way You Approach Time-Outs

“Go to your bedroom and think about what I am saying!” 

“No television for you this week.” 

Almost all of us have been at the receiving end of these statements at some point or another. One behaviour management strategy that is lesser-known in our part of the world, something almost every parent or teacher is unfamiliar with is the concept of ‘time-outs.’ Today we will try to get to know it a little better. 

A paper published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies defines a ‘time out’ as time away, usually for 1-5 minutes, from rewarding stimuli, including attention from the parent, as a consequence for misbehaviour. The child can either remain in the same place or be asked to move to another. A time-out strategy expects parents to stay calm and engage with the child in any way that neither threatens nor rewards them. There are different versions of time-outs but these fundamentals remain the same. 

In this article, we will cover little known facts about time-outs for parents. 

What Parents Need To Know About Time-Outs

The book, Please Explain Time Out to Me: A Story for Children and Do-it-Yourself Manual for Parents by Laurie and Fred Zelinger lists five steps that help parents introduce their children to time outs and provides tips to stay consistent with time-outs. Dr Laurie Zelinger is a board-certified Psychologist and Dr Fred is a parenting expert. 

  • Identify when, how, why, and where the time-out will be implemented. Help your children understand different behaviours that could lead to a time-out. Have a designated area of the house as a time-out spot. Try to keep this spot plain as too much stimulation may cause distractions and not allow the child to reflect upon their actions. Ensure that you can see the child who is in time-out. Remember that it is not about isolating the child or frightening the ones who do not want to be left alone. 
  • When family rules such as no hitting, no biting are broken and discussions do not help in solving the problem, quickly place the child in the time-out zone as you state the rule. Do not engage with the child by answering their questions. Once the time is up, ask if the child is ready to come out. If the child has not calmed down, give the child a few more minutes in the time-out zone. 
  • If one child is in the time-out, other children can continue their activities but do ensure that the child is not indirectly enjoying the activity such as listening to the cartoons etc. You want the child to be left out of the activity. If the child does not like to be excluded from the activity, the child will be more compliant in the future. 
  • After the time-out, when you can see that the child has calmed down, you should say something like “I am happy to see that you are calmer now, however, I need a couple of minutes.” It will help the child understand that their actions have consequences and will help the child develop empathy for others. This absence, even for a brief period, is powerful and must be used judiciously. 
  • A few minutes after the time out, discuss the situation with the child and help the child find better ways of handling such situations in the future. This is a critical step and after this, you can all press the reset button and start enjoying your time together as a family. 

When time-outs are perceived as punishments, their effectiveness to manage long-term behaviour comes into question. When that happens, it causes powerful emotions such as resentment, revenge, and rebellion in the young minds. It then eventually leads to sneakiness or lower self-esteem. Hence, it is important for parents to introduce the concept of time-outs to children in the right way before implementing it at home. 

What do you think about time-outs? Have you ever used them at home? What has been your experience with time-outs? Let us know in the comments below or drop a line at [email protected].

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About the Author


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Mekhala Joshi

“Me-kha-la!” That happens at least once when she introduces herself to new people. She’s the only ‘Mekhala’ she knows, and she takes a bit of pride in that. She is a quintessential introvert. Mekhala loves tea but cannot make a good cup of tea and often ends up having coffee. She claims that she takes all adjectives as complements unless specified otherwise. Mekhala is an organizational psychologist and psychometrician. She was a class teacher of 36 adorable girls for two years, grade 2 & 3, as a part of Teach For India Fellowship. And has worked as an independent consultant for a couple of years.

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