First Things First

The Next Family

By: Joe Newman

I get a lot of questions about using time-outs during transitions. For instance, when you’re trying to get them dressed and out the door to school, or you want them to clean up their things and get ready for dinner. In other words, time-outs are a lot easier to use during activities that a child wants to be doing, but what about during activities the child would prefer not to do anyway?

Create natural consequences that occur because your child has refused to take –or had too many –time outs.

Not until the difficult, or non-preferred, things are completed can the fun things be available. If you have trouble getting them dressed for bed, have them put on pajamas and brush teeth before having TV time.

When my daughter was in high school we had difficulty getting her out of the house on time. She’d spend 45 minutes on hair and make-up, then she’d forget to pack up homework, wouldn’t have time for breakfast, and be late for school. We made a rule that she wasn’t allowed to put on make-up until she’d packed up her backpack and had something to eat. If she was late to school, then the next day she couldn’t use her make-up until she was in the car. We only needed to enforce the “make-up only in the car” rule a few times (yes, there was a lot of drama) and she quickly adapted to getting the things she needed done first and getting in the car early enough so that she wasn’t late to school.

If you have difficulty getting your child out of the house on time, insist that they be ready 30 minutes before you need to leave and only then can they resume the fun activity they were doing (until it’s time to go). If they still make you late, set a timer and explain that every minute that they delay now will be a minute off of a preferred activity later.

Have a rule that certain activities and chores must be done before the more fun things. Homework is done before the computer/TV goes on. All the other dishes are put away before you get dessert. Toys are all cleaned up before you go to visit your friend. If they refuse, then you wait until they change their mind and finish before you leave.
This may mean that they miss the window of opportunity to go. “I’m sorry, but we can only go to see your friend between 2 and 4pm today, but it has taken you an hour to take your time-out and clean your room. So we can only go for an hour.” If the friend has come to your house, then the friend will have to wait in the other room until your child is finished.

Set a consequence for your time being wasted on lengthy time-outs. “If mommy has to spend more than 20 minutes with you on time-out, this cuts into the time for _______.” This can be television time, time using certain games or toys, visiting friends, etc.

As a rule I suggest never bluffing (threatening a consequence with which you’re not going to, or are very reluctant to, follow through). For instance, if it’s important to you that they not miss any meals, don’t use missing lunch as a threat. Rather, set a consequence with which you can more comfortably follow through. Perhaps you insist that however long it takes to finish the time-out, or clean-up, that they then sit for lunch for 20 minutes, then finish a 1 hour nap. And if this means that when they are done with their nap they only have one hour to be at the park instead of two hours, so be it.

Remember that a time-out system works because you always follow through with it. This means going as far as you need to make the point that you are serious. If you start using them when your child is a toddler there’s a good chance that at some point your child will test you to see what happens when they defy you. They may run away, or refuse to sit down, or even try to hit you when you attempt to move them to the time-out chair. When this happens you should hold them, sit them down and sit down behind them to make sure they don’t get up or run away. If you do this a few times when you begin using time outs they will learn that challenging you only leads to longer time-outs.

Below are the four principles for time-outs that will make parenting much easier:

First – Establish a pattern that will never change when you give a time out.

Second – Have an escalating time system for resistance to the time out. (It goes from one to two minutes if they argue, two to four if they still refuse, and ten if you are forced to put hands on them to get them there). Remember time-outs must be boring to be effective, so no talking to them during time-out time. You may need to sit behind them and hold them a few times until they are willing to sit without trying to run away.

Third – Be willing to give time-outs repeatedly when your child continues the problem behavior, doing this as long as it takes for them to become frustrated and bored.

Fourth – Create natural consequences that occur because your child has refused to take or has had too many time outs.

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