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“I Can’t Use Time-Out Because my child (1) doesn’t care, (2) screams and fights, AND/OR (3) laughs in my face!”

sad-face-with-police-capWhen in “Time-Out” most children either (1) scream/cry/physically aggress, (2) appear unaffected, or (3) appear to enjoy time-out (e.g., laugh, test-limits), and very few young children show actually show regret and remorse. Imagine the hypothetical (non-existent) child who sits in Time-Out, rests his forehead in his hands, and solemnly says, “Mother, I know what I have done is wrong at all levels, and I fully intend to avoid all such transgressions in the future.”  To expect this is absurd, but so too is expecting very young children to willingly “serve their sentences” in Time-out and not continue to “test limits” (over and over, until they go to college). Don’t erroneously conclude that “Time-Out doesn’t work” simply because your child repeatedly reacts in one of the above three ways.  Rather, push on with your immediate, powerful, humane, and consistent consequence (Time-Out), for no less than several months before making a conclusion about efficacy.  And remember, behaviors can take as long or longer to change as they took to develop.

Consider this relatively “long-term” view of the implementation of Time-Out with one of our children.  When my younger daughter was 2, she would scream and physically resist Time-Out.  As expected, “things got worse before they got better,” and the technique ultimately effectively managed (but, of course, did not “cure”) her negative behavior (e.g., tantrums, aggression, defiance). As is the case with all things in life, there were periods of ebb and flow with her negative behavior, but the general trend was in a good direction.

By the time she was 4, she became much more compliant with the procedure of Time-Out, and although she still sometimes resisted, she became much more likely to appear “unaffected” by Time-Out, however, this was simply an appearance, as her negative behavior still remained “tolerable” and “within normal limits.”  We pressed on, using Time-out appropriately, as needed (less and less often over time).  When she was 5, she drew a “Happy Face” on the wall next to her Time-Out chair (on the wallpaper of our dining room!).  It could be argued that she was being defiant, resentful, and/or enjoying Time-out with her little “Happy-Face Friend”.

Still, we pressed on with humane, immediate, consistent, and powerful use of Time-Out, appropriately, on an as-needed basis, and her negative behavior continues to be observed less and less frequently over time.  There are those who would say, “Obviously the continued need for Time-Out for all of these years indicates that the technique doesn’t work!”  But this is as absurd as arguing that eyeglasses and insulin “don’t work” because they need to be used year after year.  With behavior (and eye-sight and diabetes) we do not assume a “cure” mindset, but rather, we should have a more realistic “management” mindset.