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Parenting Tool: The Empowered Time-Out

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As I have worked with many families and parents, I have noticed that everyone has their own spin on the infamous Time-Out. Many families use this intervention as one of many alternatives to physical punishment. This is great! All of the research indicates that physical punishment is the least effective consequence. As a clinician I can tell you, I do not condone physical punishment, and it tends to be more damaging than educational to children. We would much rather our children make good choices because it makes sense to them, not because they fear a spanking. Fear is not empowering. You want children to develop internal controls.

Many of the Time-Out versions my clients are using when they come see me involve a timer. Some people do a minute for every year old a child is, some have a set 5 minutes every time, and some leave it open-ended and tell their children, “I’ll tell you when you are done.” These methods can turn Time-Outs into a power struggle, which you will lose every time. Children are in charge of themselves, and if you don’t get that, they will keep working to prove it to you.

If you think about your own experience in the world, many times, we can correct our inappropriate behavior as soon as we choose to. Nobody says, “Sorry, you can’t apologize for 20 minutes.” With my clinical background, and as a mother myself, I have developed what I call the Empowered Time-Out. This is a combination between your influence as a parent and a child’s power to choose. This works best for children who understand language, not tiny toddlers. This should be done with a calm voice. Here is how you do it:

  1. Educate the child why the behavior is inappropriate. Warn the child that if they continue the behavior, the consequence is Time-Out.
  2. When the child engages in the behavior again, direct them to your time out spot and remind them that they are going because they chose to keep engaging in the undesired behavior.
  3. Let them know that they can let themselves out of Time-Out as soon as they are willing to engage in the appropriate behavior.
  4. When the child comes out of Time-Out, if they choose the desired behavior thank them and give them praise. If they choose to get out and continue the undesired behavior, continue to direct them back to Time-Out with the same instructions.

Any new system of discipline is going to be hard to implement. Fair warning; your children will likely resist or may even try to take advantage as you begin this. Because this is empowering, you have to be okay if the child chooses not to engage in the desired behavior, and stay in Time-Out in order not to do it. It may be worth it to them in a moment to choose a negative consequence to prove their independence.

The whole point of this tool is to put children in charge of themselves. Our job as parents is to teach healthy behaviors, not make our children do them. So many parents stress more about what their children are doing than their children do. This tool puts you and child on the same page with the understanding that the child is in charge of making choices. You don’t have to hover with a timer and use your entire afternoon managing their choices.

If you are consistent with this, you will be surprised how well it works. With my own child, I am amazed how he has developed an internal control. At first it took more times of going to Time-Out before he would change the behavior. Now, he usually changes the behavior after one Time-Out, or simply at the warning before we ever make it to Time-Out. He simply helps himself out of Time-Out and says, “I’m ready mom.” We both go on with our day with no conflict or hard feelings. Consistently try this and I promise you will love it!

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