As parents of young children know, molding and training a little one is a very involved and often difficult task. There are many approaches, opinions, tools, and strategies for how to best do this.
One tool that most parents will turn to at some point in their journey is the ever-popular “time out.” I know I have used this many times with my young children.
While a time out can be a helpful tool in teaching a child, there are a few considerations that will make it far more effective. Here are a few thoughts to get the conversation started.
6 Ways to Make “Time Outs” More Effective
First let me say, I am FAR from being a perfect parent and believe me, I don’t have this all figured out. However, through reflecting on my own experience, I have made a few observations. Please take these as humble suggestions.
1. Have realistic expectations from the beginning.
I am a huge believer in having high expectations. But just because they’re high doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also be realistic.
It may not be realistic to ask a squirmy one-year-old to sit quietly in a shopping cart for hours. A time out is only going to be effective when the expectation is realistic to begin with. Otherwise you’re fighting a losing battle.
2. Use them at appropriate times.
The funny thing about “time outs” is that they can actually reinforce a behavior if you’re not careful. I would imagine a squirmy child in a shopping cart strongly prefers a time out over sitting quietly in his cart another moment.
My daughter wanted to stop napping at the age of two. She preferred to get up, play in her room, empty all her drawers, et cetera. I believed she still needed naps due to her evening grumpiness, so I required her to stay in her bed during this time each day. “Time outs” were not part of my approach and would not have worked!
3. Incorporate Prayer.
My friend Emily recently described how she uses time outs with her four-year-old son. When they’re having trouble working through his behavior, either because he’s not understanding the problem or she’s becoming frustrated, she’ll send him to his room and tell him to talk though it with God while she goes and does the same. She’ll often overhear through the door a sweet, “Dear Gawd, …” as he does just that.
I love this idea! I got excited the minute I heard it. How many times have I felt inadequate to help my children understand their sin?
I can’t think of a better way to break through the barrier of blind self-interest than to encourage them to go to God personally to work through things. He can help them far more than I can.
Also, taking time to pray as the parent during the time out will provide wisdom for the “communication” that must come later if the “time out” will be truly effective.
4. Communicate and Communicate Calmly.
Children need guidance, not just punishment. They need help understanding their motivations and actions from an internal and Biblical perspective and the implications of their actions.
And they need to be and feel heard and understood. So ask questions, listen, and lovingly instruct them. Help them understand themselves, but also don’t let them off the hook. If another child is involved, find tips for teaching your child apologize here.
5. Don’t make it a punishment of isolation.
The goal of the time out is to remove the child from the situation so he can think and talk with you more clearly, as well as training them with an averse consequence.
If it’s used as a punishment alone, the time out is far from realizing it’s powerful potential. As Ted Tripp talks about in Shepherding a Child’s Heart (my favorite parenting book), our goal isn’t to simply modify our children’s behavior while leaving their hearts un-affected. This creates a child who obeys selfishly, to avoid punishment, rather than developing a love and respect for their parents and others that flows from careful training and prayer.
6. Don’t over-rely on them.
“Time outs” alone can be overused and become less effective or ineffective. They may not be enough to shape the willful and wayward heart of a child alone, because inherently, they’re not all that averse.
While I believe they are a useful and helpful tool, I also consider the timeless wisdom of the Bible,
“Discipline your child with a rod and save him from death” Proverbs 23:14
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11-13
“The Lord disciplines those He loves” Proverbs 3:12
What is your reaction to these thoughts? How do you use time outs effectively?