Disciplining children effectively, not only requires a great deal of persistence but also the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly with children. When working with parents on the issue of disciplining their children, it is important to ensure that all disciplinary strategies are age-appropriate.

Bad behaviour comes with penalties

Carroll & Reid (2005) suggest that effective discipline sees that bad behaviour has consequences and good behaviour generates rewards. It is up to parents (with the assistance of a counsellor, if required) to decide what kinds of rewards and consequences are to be tied to what kinds of behaviour. Carroll & Reid (2005) describes a system of time-out as a consequence for bad behaviour. The procedure for effective time-out is outlined in the figure below.


House rule: time-out

Adapted from: Carroll, D., & Reid, S. (2005). Nanny 911: Expert advice for all your parenting needs. Harper Collins.

“Time-outs are a nanny favorite because they work. Time-outs are not punishment. Time-outs are a useful tool to teach children that when they are out of control, they need to take the time to themselves to figure out their thoughts and feelings. Then, after they are calm, they can talk about them. So think of time-outs as time for children to think and to breathe. By doing this, they help teach patience and responsibility.

There are several steps to an effective time-out.

  1. Give warnings: Warnings should be the precursor to the time-out. Don’t just swoop in and grab the child and dump him or her in time-out. This is just going to make your child even more angry and with good reason. Decide whichever warning system works for you, and have that be part of the time-out rule. Some families give only one warning. As in: ‘We don’t hit in this house. If you don’t stop hitting your brother, you are going into time-out.” Others like the three-strike concept, and the time-out starts with the third strike.
  2. Countdown to the time-out. Part of your warning should be a precise statement of when the time-out will begin. This will help you be consistent, and it will help your child realise you aren’t kidding. This is also very necessary for young children, who don’t yet have a grasp of what ‘time” is. Try using visual clues to make your point clear. Instead of saying, “We’re leaving in five minutes,” say, “When Mommy puts on her coat that means we are going to start to get ready to go. “Make sure your child has heard you, and has acknowledged that he or she has. Often tantrums erupt because a child simply has been too engrossed in play to listen to what mum was shouting from the other room. We’re sure you know by now how easy it is for children to tune out what they don’t want to hear. Use the communication skills we’ve already taught you: Get down to the child’s level. Speak calmly. Sometimes a physical touch on the arm or shoulder as well helps get their attention. Be sure they acknowledge that they’ve both heard and understood what you’ve said. Or, you can simply set the timer, and tell Allegra that you are leaving when the timer dings. Be sure she’s heard you. Then leave, whether she’s happy about it or not.
  3. One minute of time-out for each year of age. Trust us, three minutes is a very long time for a three-year old! Time-outs work best starting at around age two, as a child younger than two can’t really understand the concept. A kitchen timer or alarm clock is set. The time-out should always take place in the same spot. For children age two to about four, we like to keep the children in a time-out spot where we can see or at least hear them. We prefer a hall or a spot where they can’t get into mischief! (We do not recommend that you use the crib or toddler bed, as they’re only for sleeping.) We do not make any contact with a child in time-out, but he or she certainly knows that we are there. Older children can be put in time-out in a room by themselves, as long as it’s a calm, quiet place, and there are no distractions, such as a TV or a computer. Do not ever lock a child in a room during a time-out. That is unsafe, scary and cruel from a child’s perspective.
  4. Use a timer in plain view of the child. We love our trusty timers. They have large numerals, make noise, and come complete with a loud ding at the end. Make sure your child can see the timer or clock. Older kids who can tell time fully grasp the concept of time passing slowly when they sit in a time-out with nothing to do but look at a clock!
  5. Leaving the time-out spot or area starts the clock all over again. It doesn’t matter what the infraction is, or that seven-year-old has been in time-out for six minutes and forty-nine seconds. If he or she gets up, the clock is started all over again. This means no negotiation, either. Kids love to try and wheedle their way out of the time-out. If children want to sing, dance, wiggle, or hum during a time-out, however, that is their priority. Some children find it absolutely impossible to sit still while they are thinking, so forcing them to will only make the situation worse. The timer is reset only if the child physically leaves the time-out spot or area.
  6. Parents do not interrupt the time-out. No matter how much begging or pleading ensues, stand firm and do not give in. Otherwise you may as well just kiss the time-out goodbye. Parents must work as a team with time-out. Often one parent can’t bear the crying, and wants to go in and soothe or talk to the child. Sit tight. The time to talk will come soon enough.
  7. A talk afterward is an essential part of the time-out. Actually, we ought to call the time-out the time-out-and-talk. Time-outs need talk afterward. This is really important, and parents often neglect to do it. They let their child stew and brood instead. A talk after the time-out will clear the air. Sit down and ask children what was going on, what they were feeling, why the naughtiness happened. Ask them these questions calmly and listen without judging. You may be surprised at what you hear.”