Using, not abusing, timeouts for kids

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Many parents and grandparents use timeouts to remove a misbehaving child to a quiet setting before a no-win situation escalates out of hand. Although a timeout may seem trivial to an adult, it is remarkably powerful for a child if managed properly, said Saralee Jamieson, University of Missouri Extension human development specialist.

"The child is learning that there are consequences of his misbehavior, without giving him the negative attention that comes with being yelled at or spanked," said Jamieson.

Here are some guidelines:

*Use timeouts sparingly, not for everything a child does wrong.

* The rule of thumb for length of the timeout is one minute per year of the child's age. For example, a 4-year-old would have a four-minute timeout.

*Because a young child's attention span is so short, the timeout should begin as soon as the behavior occurs. Be willing to follow through on warnings.

*Be kind but firm. Tell the child briefly what he or she did wrong and what the preferred behavior is, but save further discussion until after the timeout. Have the child sit in a quiet place away from the center of activity.

*Consider using a timer, so when a child asks "How much longer?" the parent can say that the buzzer will go off in whatever time is left.

*When the timeout is finished, the parent should give the child a hug to communicate that they are not angry.

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