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Disciplining Children: How to Give a Time-Out

Disciplining Children: How to Give a Time-Out

We've found -- and the data support -- that a time-out is the most effective approach for discipline. It gives both the child and the parent a chance to decompress from a stressful event and think about the situation. It also allows you the space to explain what's wrong with the behavior and reinforce that a particular behavior is not acceptable, so that your child learns from it.

The perfect time-out works like this: Teach your child that if she does something that you tell her not to, you will give her a warning and a slow count to three. That counting gives her a chance to stop what she's doing and correct the behavior. If you reach three, then she's going to the designated time-out place in your home. You can give a warning at one. If the misbehavior doesn't stop, say clearly, "I asked you not to put your sister's doll in the dishwasher. That is two." At three, the time-out starts.

Make the time-out place a chair where there are no distractions; the idea is to make it a boring place where your child won't want to be. You keep her there for the number of minutes equal to her age (4 minutes for a 4-year-old and so on). After your child serves her time, you explain why what she did was harmful and not acceptable and ask if she understands. But don't make it a lecture; just state the facts. If you make punishment a habit that your child doesn't like, she'll change the habit that got her there in the first place.

By the time a child is 3 or 4, she may ask if her behavior is good or bad and may even give herself a time-out. This signifies that she knows right from wrong, still needs to test limits, but is mature enough to take ownership of her behavior. That's the kind of behavior that can eventually lead to an older child learning to take five deep breaths or count to 10 when she feels angry, frustrated, or on the verge of an outburst. Just like imaginary play, time-outs can help a child figure out her boundaries.

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