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Sunday, 25 March 2001

Time Out: Is It Right for You?

Written by  Esther Boylan Wolfson

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The first article I wrote for WholeFamily, over two years ago, was about time out. I chose this topic because the issue is relevant to many parents of pre-school children who want to discipline their children without spanking. I also felt, and still do, that time out is one of the most misunderstood and misused methods of child discipline. Over the course of the last two years, I have continued to get questions from parents who are frustrated by trying to get two-year-olds to go to their rooms and parents whose four-year-old children are spending two hours a day sitting in chairs. In addition, many experts today do not feel that time out is the best method of child discipline.

So I feel the time has come to discuss this topic in greater depth and to help you, as parents, decide if this method will work for you and your child.

In the article, Time Out: What is it and How Can You make It Work For You? you will find a step-by-step description of how to set up a successful time-out program with your young child (ages two to five years old). Read this article to understand how it's done, but before doing so, you may want to take into account what I call:

The Five Time-Out Myths

Myth # 1: Time Out Works For All Children

No one method of child discipline works for all children. Each child has different needs and reactions. For many children, time out serves as a bridge to help a child let go of the "bad" behavior and move on to "good" behavior. For some children, however, the process of being removed from other people and given time alone is not helpful and instead of calming a child down, it just upsets him more.

In my opinion, time out is definitely worth trying with a young child. It takes time to set up an effective time-out program and you should not expect a child to sit perfectly in a time out the first time that they try it. If after several weeks the process of getting a child to take a time out is still a struggle, then you might want to consider trying other methods of child discipline.

In fact, there are many experts who do not recommend time out as an appropriate method of child discipline. One expert who feels very strongly on this issue is Arlette Simon, a holistic psychotherapist with more than 25 years of experience. To read her comments on the time out method go to: Be Good Or Else! An Expert Opinion Against Time Out.

Myth #2: Time Out Works For All Parents

In order for any method of discipline to work, it needs to be a program that a parent can implement and follow through with consistency. Many parents find that a time out is just what their kids need after a tantrum. Other parents feel uncomfortable forcing a child to sit in a chair or take some private time alone. In order to use time out, you need to be able to insist on your child taking the time out, even if it requires a moderate amount of force. (How to do this is discussed in the Time Out article.) If this is not something you feel you can do, or feel you can do consistently, then time out will not work for you.

To read about two parents' experiences, check out:
Time Out: It's Worth the Effort
Time Out: A Mom's Description Of Why It Did Not Work

Myth #3: Time Out Should Not Be Used In Combination With Other Methods Of Child Discipline

While there are parents and experts who swear time out is the only method of discipline any parent will ever need, I disagree. If you are lucky and your child needs only two or three reminders a day to behave, then stick with time out alone. If you, like me, have children who need constant reminders, you may need to also use other methods.

A pre-school child should not be sitting in a chair, without moving, for more than a half an hour each day. (Even in five-minute intervals.) I therefore, recommend that parents specify three or four behaviors (for example, hitting, kicking or throwing toys) that will result in a time out. Then, if your child uses a different inappropriate behavior (for example, takes candy when she is not allowed) you respond by using a different method.

For information on other methods of child discipline, check out:

Making the Punishment Fit the Crime
Don't Forget Time In
Parenting With Love

Myth #4: There Is Only One Way To Do Time Out

Wrong. In the Time Out article, I describe one type of time-out program. This method works for me both at home and in the classroom. I described it in detail, because I find that many parents do not know where to start and want specific instructions. If you can think of a way to modify the program I describe to better fit you and your child's personality, that's great! You know your child best and are in the best position to say what will work for her.

For an expert opinion about different approaches to the time out method see:
Time Out - Understanding the Concept.

For a description of how one parent modified the time out method to work for her son, check out: Time Out: Look In.

Myth #5: It's Not Worth Trying It Twice

Children change and each child is different. There are many children who are not ready for time out at age two, but may benefit from time out at age four. Don't feel that if you try once and it doesn't work, that means you can't try again when your child is older. Also, don't feel that because it didn't work for one child, it won't work for another. Of course, if you feel that the method just "doesn't work for you," (see Myth #2), then it does not pay for you to try again.

The Most Important Truth: Only You Know What Works Best For You And Your Child

Now that you know the myths, you need to know the truth: Only you can decide. In this series, we present the options. My hope is that each parent will take the information offered here, try things out and find the best way for his or her family.

Last modified on Thursday, 24 March 2011 10:49
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Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Boylan Wolfson

Esther Wolfson , director of our Early Childhood Development Center is an Early Childhood Specialist, who received her BA in English Communications from Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University and an MA in Early Childhood Special Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, both in New York City. Esther worked as a pre-school special education teacher for seven years. Three of those years were spent working in a school for language delayed pre-schoolers, which is her area of specialty. Another special love of hers is cooking with young children. One of her most enjoyable projects was developing a program for cooking with pre-school children for three special education programs. Esther and her husband Myles have three boys aged eight, five and two-years-old. While her three lively boys and her work at WholeFamily, keep her quite busy, in her spare time (if she ever has any!) she is an avid reader who also enjoys creative writing, exercising and swimming.

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