Monday, August 5, 2013

What is the True Purpose of Time Out and When is it Appropriate to Use?

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Time Out. A phrase you hear in a sporting event, something shouted when the clock has elapsed its allotted amount of time and a consequence for bad behavior for a child. Regardless of the way its used, time out means to stop or take a break. People seem to have mixed feelings about putting children in time out. It is recommended that time-outs be used for two specific kinds of problem behaviors: temper tantrums and habitual antisocial behaviors. 

If you've ever watched super nanny you know that she enforces the use of a time out chair or space when children misbehave with temper tantrums or habitual antisocial behaviors. After implementing the time out, following through with it, being consistent and talking with the child once they are calm, super nanny always tells parents to follow with love. 

Kicking, screaming, crying, flailing arms; we've all seen and probably had a tantrum of our own. One thing to remember about temper tantrums is that these tantrums are such an intense emotional and physical roller coaster in which children no longer have their normal thought process available to them. They can not hear or respond to adult directions, cannot think out a logical appropriate sequence of actions and can no longer gauge the effect of their behavior. I'm sure you are all aware of these attributes during a temper tantrum and this is why a time out is beneficial at this time. If a toddler is having a temper tantrum the best thing to do is ignore the outrageous behavior and let them quite down in their own way because their tantrums are usually short lived. They CAN regain control on their own and this is a learning time for them. For older children, whose tantrums may be more drawn out, time out is an appropriate consequence to consider. This is a time to remove them from the situation, to take a break so they can regain their normal thought process again.

Habitual antisocial behaviors is another area to consider using time outs. Habitual behaviors are things like biting, kicking and hitting. All children will do one, if not all of these many many times while they are young. The problem occurs when these behaviors become a habit or a way of getting attention. When these habitual behaviors start the parent must work at stopping the problem as well as interrupting the pattern of positive reinforcement that has allowed it to continue. Time out is a way to help do this. Once again, it removes the child from the situation so that a normal thought process can be taught and gained again.

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Here are some things to remember about time outs:

  • Time out should last about 1-2 minutes for preschoolers and 5 minutes or so for older children. 
  • Time out means time away from the mainstream of group activity.
  • It is not appropriate to use time out to humiliate a child or as a threat. Threats undermine trust between adults and children. Time out is effective when is is treated as a coping mechanism, not as a form of punishment. 
  • Time out does not need to last longer than the time it takes for the child to calm down. Becoming calm is the goal. Once its reached, you can talk with and explain to the child why they were put in time out. 
Source: Guiding Children's Social Development & Learning by Kostelink, Whiren, Soderman and Gregory

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