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Hot Topic: Time Out

Is time out a useful way to discipline your toddler? The experts disagree. What do you think?

Plus:
Time Out for a Toddler
How to Set Rules for a Toddler
Ways to Tame a Tantrum

Time Out Works for a Toddler -- If You Do It Right
Elizabeth Pantley
Toddlerhood Is Much Too Young

Peter Earnest Haiman, Ph.D.

"There isn’t one exact age when time out should begin. There are actually ways to use this tool for children of different ages. Every kid is unique, and it’s most important to keep an eye on your child's response to a time out to make sure it’s working. Does the process help him calm down? Does it help him define and understand an inappropriate behavior? Is he able to comprehend the reason he needs to stop the behavior? If you answer yes to these questions, you’re using time out effectively."

"With time out, young children can’t understand the reason that they were being punished. They don’t even know the difference between two minutes, ten minutes and an hour. If they’re put in a room alone, they don’t know if anyone is coming back to them, or why they’re there. They probably won’t develop that understanding until about age seven, and even then it will come slowly."

Time Out Can Teach a Lesson
"No matter what age your child is, taking a break from a situation that's causing an emotional meltdown is helpful. So if a one-year-old is mad at the dog and hitting him, it’s a good idea to give him a time out -- or more appropriately named a 'time-away -- from the dog. If a two-year-old is grabbing toys from his baby cousin, a 'time-away' from the baby, followed by a short, specific instruction, can help you gain control of the situation and can become a teaching tool."
Shutting Them In a Room Betrays Their Trust
"A child shouldn’t be forced to be alone. It’s important for a child to develop trust, and when a parent allows the child to come and go, it builds that trust. But when the child is forced into being alone, they may start to lose trust, feeling like the parent isn’t there for them. That can have a profound impact on the child’s relationships, even into adulthood."
It Can Also Be Calming -- For Both of You
"Time out works because it interrupts a child’s negative behavior, separates him from the situation that's igniting his emotions, and allows him to calm down. Putting a child in time out also has a purpose for a parent -- it lets you separate from a child whose behavior is upsetting you, so that you can calm down, too."
The Reasons for Time Out Are Misguided
"Often, adults punish the child for something the adult believes is wrong, but isn’t really wrong in the child’s eyes, like accidentally knocking a glass of milk off the table, so there isn’t a lesson to be learned. To them, it’s their mother or father who considered it wrong."
But It’s Not a Punishment
"Time out isn’t meant to be a punishment. It’s a method to help your child learn how to calm himself and control his behavior, so that you can then teach him a lesson through a discussion."
How to React Instead
"The most important thing to do when your child misbehaves is find out the reason for it. All behavior is caused by some underlying needs -- find out what they are. Ask: Is my child getting enough good food? Enough rest? Enough exercise? Does she have enough trust in me? Am I paying enough attention to her? Kids sometimes find that the way they get attention is to misbehave. Make sure you’re giving your toddler plenty of choices, too, like which pants to wear or which toothbrush to use, and make it fun. Listen to your child and ask her questions."
It’s All In How You Work It
"Just be careful because time out isn’t a magic answer to all discipline problems, and if it’s overused it can lose effectiveness. Decide on which issues will warrant a time out, such as back talk, hitting or destructiveness, and make them clear to your child. As much as time out seems like a good solution for tantrums, that often isn’t the case, since a kicking, flailing toddler will often just leave the time-out spot. When you are both calm, let your child know -- briefly and concisely -- why he was in time out and how he can avoid going there again. Make it a real give-and-take conversation -- not a lecture."
When Your Child Is Old Enough
"When your child can understand time and can reason with you -- that only happens beginning roughly at age seven -- you may introduce a time out. After the time out, it’s important to talk about the misbehavior, what they did during the time out and about how they’re going to prevent that in the future, so they don’t need to go into time out at all. Beginning around age seven is when a child will be able to reflect on herself. Before that, she won’t be able to fully process what’s happening."
Elizabeth Pantley is president of Better Beginnings, a parent-education company and author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behavior without Whining, Tantrums & Tears Peter Earnest Haiman, Ph.D., is a childrearing consultant and former chairman of the Department of Child Development and Early Childhood Education at the University of South Carolina