Using time out

Confession time! As a mother, I occasionally used to send my children into ‘time out.’ I used to put them in the downstairs cloakroom and was surprised one day to find a stash of comics under the rug!  At least one of my children was preparing ahead and had sorted out their entertainment if they were put into time out!

Positive discipline is best

As a parenting specialist, I’ve realised that sending a child to time out can be just another form of punishment. It rarely changes the child’s behaviour in the long-term.  It is much better to use positive discipline with children. One important exception is if a parent is worried they might hurt their child. Then, it may be preferable to put the child into time out, where they will be safe.

Why the ‘naughty step’ doesn’t work

The ‘naughty chair’ or ‘naughty step’, was encouraged by Supernanny Jo Frost. However, it can lead children to believe that they are naughty. If a child is told frequently enough that they’re naughty, they can develop a ‘naughty identity.’ It means they think: ‘I can’t be good at being good, but I can be really good at being naughty!’  You can probably identify which children in your child’s nursery or school have a naughty identity, as they are the ones that are frequently in trouble!

Children do not sit on the naughty step and think: ‘I behaved really badly; I must remember to behave better next time!’ It’s much more likely they’re thinking of the quickest way to escape the ‘naughty chair’ (using a sor-eeee!) Or they using the time to plot their revenge!

So how should time out be used?

  1. Well in advance, explain to your child why it’s important to calm down rather than act out when they’re angry or upset. It is best if your child takes themselves off rather than being sent into ‘time out.’
  2. Designate a ‘calming-down area’ ‘chill-out zone’ ‘thinking chair.’ Or talk about spending ‘quiet time on the sofa’.
  3. Explain that if they become really boisterous or emotional, you may ask them: ‘do you want a few minutes to calm down?’
  4. If your child is misbehaving give them a choice. Explain to your child: ‘Please stop that, or you’ll need some time to calm down.’
  5. If your child continues to misbehave you can say:
  • Hey, looks like you need a few minutes to calm down. Do you want to sit here with me on the sofa? Or would it be easier to calm down in your bedroom?
  • Hey, do you want to sit on the ‘calming down’ beanbag or chill-out zone?

One great idea is to shake a ‘chill-out bottle’ with coloured water and sparkly items that need to settle to the bottom to signal the end of the time needed to calm down.

Once they are calmer, it’s important to give your child lots of positive attention for calming down and regaining their self-control.

Later, when things have calmed down, it’s good to spend some time problem-solving with your child. To help them work out what else they could have done, and practice different ways to deal with the situation. This should be done in the spirit of exploring solutions not revisiting poor behaviour.

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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