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A New Twist On Time Out

I recently attended a continuing medical conference with hundreds of other pediatricians. At the conference, a behavioral psychologist presented a new twist on an old topic that I thought was worth sharing. I’ve always been taught (and taught parents) the rule of “one minute per year” for timeout, e.g., if a child is 2 years-old, then they stay in time out for 2 minutes. Now I’ve always used the minutes of time as a general guideline and told parents to go in and retrieve the misbehaving child as soon as the child was in control of themselves. The new approach throws minutes in time out completely out the window altogether.

Instead of time out for so many minutes, you train to these three ideas:

  1. Quiet Mouth
  2. Quiet Hands
  3. Quiet Feet

In teaching the concept, you would repeat the three steps to the child, “Quiet mouth, quiet hands, quiet feet.” As soon as the child has those three things under control, the child gets to come out of time out. The idea is that it teaches the child more to the desired behavior and less to the minutes of time.

I’ve decided to try it out on my youngest (20 months). Unfortunately, it’s only been a couple of days, so I can’t report a raging success just yet (she’s still at the stage of throwing her body back on the ground stiff as a board and screaming at the top of her lungs anytime I try and correct her). Fear not, I’m more stubborn than she is and determined to teach her. Wish me luck! May you have quicker success than me.

Discipline: No Spanking Or Hitting

Children need to learn boundaries and to be taught by their parents. Discipline is a form of teaching, but spanking or hitting children does not teach children what parents think it does. Well-meaning parents tell me all the time, “…but I don’t hurt my child,” or “…but it’s the only way to get my child’s attention,” or “…
I was spanked and I turned out just fine.” While those parents may be right, spanking or hitting will ultimately result in a negative outcome. It is never the answer. In case you can’t tell, it is a topic that I feel very passionate about. I have had the misfortune of taking care of a number of children who have been physically injured or have emotional issues (anger, fear, resentment, etc.) as a result of being spanked or hit.

I have taken the following information directly from The American Academy of Pediatrics website:

Why spanking is not the best choice

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend spanking. Although most Americans were spanked as children, we now know that it has several important side effects.

  • Even though spanking may seem to “work” at first, it loses its impact after a while.
  • Because most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent.
  • Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility.
  • Parents may intend to stay calm but often do not, and then regret their actions later.
  • Spanking can lead to physical struggles and even grow to the point of harming the child.

It is true that many adults who were spanked as children may be well-adjusted and caring people today. However, research has shown that, when compared with children who are not spanked, children who are spanked are more likely to become adults who are depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, hit their spouses, and engage in crime and violence. These adult outcomes make sense because spanking teaches a child that causing others pain is OK if you’re frustrated or want to maintain control—even with those you love. A child is not likely to see the difference between getting spanked from his parents and hitting a sibling or another child when he doesn’t get what he wants.

Discipline: Natural Consequences

I am a big believer in allowing children to suffer the natural consequences of their actions or decisions as a method of discipline or teaching. In short, you are allowing your child to see what will happen if he or she misbehaves. You then can give a short explanation to teach and reinforce what happened as a consequence, but do not swoop in and fix it for your child. Here are a few examples:

  1. Your child throws a toy and it breaks. You respond by calmly and simply stating to your child, “You threw your toy and broke it, now you cannot play with it anymore.” Then do not replace the toy.
  2. Your child purposely keeps dropping a treat or toy on the ground. You respond by taking the object away and telling your child, ‘When you keep dropping your toy on the ground, you do not get to have it anymore.” If it was a treat do not give your child another one.
  3. Your child will not stop biting his or her shirt at the sleeves or neckline. If it is not too cold (never allow the consequence to pose a danger to your child), take away your child’s shirt. Simply explain, “Wearing a shirt is a privilege. If you can’t wear your shirt without biting it, you don’t get to wear one at all.”

Of course, it is not always practical or feasible to allow the natural consequences to happen (e.g., allowing a child to climb up on something high where he/she can fall and get hurt, touching a fire and getting burned, teasing a dog and getting bitten). For those cases, you can use other methods of discipline/teaching, like timeout (see articles on Timeout).

Discipline: Losing Privileges

The concept behind taking away privileges as a method of discipline is that you are taking away something that the child wants or will miss as a result of misbehaving. This is a method that can work very effectively in all age groups, if done right. There are a few pointers to making this an effective method of teaching.

  1. Follow through. Do not take away a privilege you are not willing to follow through on. For example, don’t tell your child that you are going to take away watching TV for the rest of the day and then allow your child to watch later that night.
  2. Only take away wants not needs. For example, take away TV time, computer games, video games, toys, but DO NOT take away meals.
  3. Choose something of value to your child. If your child won’t miss what you have taken away, you will not effect change. For example, do not only take away the Nintendo DS when your child also has a GameBoy and Wii that he or she is still allowed to play with.
  4. Try to make the privilege lost match the misbehavior. For example, if your teenager isn’t getting homework done because time spent on the computer or phone, take way computer (except for homework purposes) or phone privileges.
  5. In younger children (under 6 years), make it immediate. If there is too much time between the misbehavior and the loss of privilege, the child will not connect the two. For example, a 3 year old isn’t going to remember that he or she can’t watch a movie in the evening because of misbehavior in the morning.