Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Are time-outs really effective?


Yesterday afternoon I wedged myself in the entrance of my son's preschool, propping the door open with my foot, his brother on my hip, trying, in my best I'm-not-about-to-lose-my-shit-at-all voice, to cajole him out of the building. It's becoming a regular scene at preschool.

It was thirty minutes after class had ended, and the last of his little friends had trotted off home with their backpacks and paint-smeared hands, and, as usual, we were the only ones left. The stragglers.

With my patience running on less than a thread, I detected my calm voice disappearing as promises of treats turned to threats of no treats and no movies. Ever again. Still, he resisted.

I left him at the school door, still in eyeshot, his face pressed up against the window, wailing into the dark interior. I dashed to the car and buckled my younger son into his seat, realizing I would need both hands to resolve this.

Back at the school entrance I told my son he had ten seconds to get into the car, otherwise I would have no choice but to pick him up and put him in the car myself. As I reached the dreaded number ten, I started toward him, at which point he reached out and whacked me. Hard. I gasped.

That was like the cherry on the molten lava cake that was about to erupt.

I carried my 40-something-pound son to the car, screaming in my ear and attempted to strap him in, against the force of his wriggling, protesting body. Despite the steam coming from my ears I managed to stay calm. I told him that as soon as we got home, he was going into a time-out.

At home, I kept my word. The time-out ritual went as it usually does, with me putting him in his room, explaining what he was being put in a time-out for, and that he needed to think about it, and could come out when he could be a kind boy again. I closed the door and went to the kitchen.

He came out.

I took him back, without engaging him.

He came out.

I took him back.

He came out.

I took him back. 

You get the idea.

Thirty million repeats later, he told me he was sorry between sobs, and I forgave him, and we got on with preparing dinner.

All was fine again. For now.

The problem is, we've been doing time-outs for a while now, and it seems like rather than moving forward, we're still revisiting the same old problems, over and over and over: him not listening, him lashing out by yelling or hitting, him running in the other direction. Etc.

And so I can't help but wonder if time-outs truly are as effective as the books tell me they are.

The point of a time out is to make sure a child doesn't get any (positive) reinforcement for a certain behaviour, for a period of time, and to send home the message that this behaviour won't be tolerated. For a child, not being acknowledged is one of the worst things - so it makes sense.

And, as with most child discipline methods, there are two camps of thought: those who think time-outs are completely necessary and have found them to be effective, and; those who think they're an utter waste of time.


I belong to the camp of those with no frigging clue whether they're effective or not. My instinct tells me they might not be, for us anyway, simply because I'm not seeing the results.

Someone once told me that time-outs are pointless for a child under the age of six because younger children do not act premeditatively (with a true understanding of consequence), and therefore the best thing to do is to look for a distraction, and use a time-out only as a last resort, or better, give them "quiet time" to think about what they have done.

While I'm not convinced time-outs are the best solution, I'm at a loss for another effective means of discipline (other than smacking, which I don't do). And lately, we're needing one.


What's your opinion of time-outs? Have they worked for you?
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18 comments:

Sparkless said...

Each child is different and you have to find their button. For my son it's always been taking away his video games.
Figure out what your son values and use that as your lever. If he loves Preschool tell him if he doesn't come out and behave properly he won't get to go to preschool. If he does it again keep him home a day and see if that makes any difference.
I find that time outs only work when you can do them right away or the child is out of control and need time to calm down.

Loukia said...

That scene you described, that's happened to me so many times. Or my visits to the grocery store, when my 2 year old eats everything in sight, running through the aisles... so annoying. Anyway. Man. So hard. I don't know if time-outs work. We hardly do them. Our kids think it's more of a joke when we try to get all serious. I guess if you're firm and stick with it each time, then they would work. I'm too much of a softie, and I hate it. Sigh. Who needs a vacation? ME ME ME!

Lady Mama said...

Sparkless - thanks for the advice. I actually tried the no-more-preschool threat yesterday. Unfortunately I often find that taking things away and making threats simply adds fuel to the fire and he becomes even more combative.

Loukia - me! me! I need a vacation too!

MommyLovesStilettos said...

I think every child needs different discipline. What works great for one, might not work great for the other. Both of my children respond well to time out. But I have friends who rarely use it because it just doesn't work for their kiddos. *HUGS* hang in there! It will get better as he gets a little older! :)

Pamela said...

Time-outs only frustrate me. The whole back and forth, back and forth thing is for the birds.

Lady Mama said...

MommyLovesStilettos - thanks! It's reassuring to hear it doesn't work for everyone.

Pamela - I'm beginning to feel that way too!

Elaine A. said...

I think it depends on the child, like most things. With my oldest time outs only made him even MORE angry. Like violently angry. And he's six now and still gets one every now and again if he gets out of control, but it's rare.

They work better with my current 3 yr old and he is actually able to calm down but I honestly think it has to do with the fact that he has a different personality and doesn't get as "worked up" as my oldest used to.

So, maybe time-outs are just not effective for your son and perhaps there is another method that would be better for him in particular. Although I cannot say that I know what it is!! ;)

Lady Mama said...

Elaine - Interesting. Like you say, the problem is finding an alternative that works. Maybe there isn't one...!

Nikosmommy said...

I don't know that there's any one disciple method that's truly effective when you're talking about a young child. Time out's (in the corner) seem to work reasonably well with my oldest son (5yrs),but he sure doesn't like them -he yells, screams and cries but knows that if he leaves that corner then the sh!t will really hit the fan. Spankings never worked on him, he just gave us the stick-eye, and seemed annoyed more than anything. So now we reserve time outs for when he's really behaved heinously (like tossing his little brother off the couch), and for everything else we take away things he really values, (tv, toys, dessert, play-dates with friends, visits to his grandparents etc.) It seems that depriving him is the ultimate punishment. But that STILL doesn't dissuade him from acting up...he's only 5 after-all!

Sara @ Domestically Challenged said...

My oldest could have cared less about time outs, but my youngest? Even say the word and he is DONE! He hates them. Must have to do with the child, huh?!

fiona2107 said...

I'm probably not the nest person to ask advice from since all of my kids have varying degrees of autism and most autism mum's know that time outs definitely do NOT work for our kids.
But your lovely boys are
"normal" so I'm not sure what the best course of action is.
Do you know what is triggering his outbursts? I usually try to get to the root of the cause first and work from there.
Also as some of your friends said above - different personalites in children respond differently to time outs.
I have some friends with "normal" children who say that time outs only for for some of their kids not all of them :)

Lady Mama said...

fiona2107 - a variety of things. I suspect one of the causes is the disturbed nights we're having lately - his little brother still doesn't sleep through, and I definitely notice a difference on the days he's slept well / hasn't...

diney said...

I feel for you - it's so stressful and also embarrassing, but don't beat yourself up about it, it will get better in time. In the meantime, if you are not fed up with advice(!!), we always found/find that an award system works wonders, rather than taking things away or having pointless time out sessions which don't really do the trick, in my experience anyway.We introduced an award card so that, at the end of every day, you go through and say did you get up on time this morning (2 points), did you clean your teeth without being asked (2points) were you polite and kind at school (4 points) did you wash your hands after going to the loo (2 points) etc etc....Clearly, if she HASN'T been polite, or hasn't cleaned her teeth, then she doesn't get the points - don't take them away. Then add the points up (we've always let her add them up as it adds to the element of fun and surprise) and she is delighted if she gets over 10 points. Then, at the end of the week, we add the points up. If she has more than 70 points we say we will take her to the cinema or hire a dvd and she can have a friend round, if it is 60 points she can have a later night on Saturday to watch X factor (!), etc etc. It has worked miracles for my daughter, who was a wind-up merchant par excellence at times. :)

LisaDay said...

My guy is approaching two and I have used timeouts but they don't seem to work either. It's suppose to be a minute for every year of age but less then half a minute later he has moved on and likely can't remember why he was on a timeout anyway. I use distraction and sometimes my angry voice.

LisaDay

Lady Mama said...

diney - thanks. I LOVE the idea of a reward system. I'm not sure if my preschooler might be too young for it yet, but it's worth a try.

LisaDay - distraction seems to work well for us too.

Jules said...

We have always used time outs and find them to be very effective. One thing I've heard is to never use their bedroom as their time out spot. That should be a happy spot for them. We use a bench in the entry. We also use the time out for my two year old granddaughter. It works very well. One minute on time out for their age. When the time out is finished, explain why they were put there and hugs and kisses when they are done.

Mwa said...

Time outs work on my children, but they are hard, and I find that I need other things as well. What I think works best of all in the long run is positive reinforcement - praise for good behaviour, sometimes stickers or even treats - combined with time-out for naughty things, and as a cherry on the cake - when time-outs don't work or are impractical like when we're out - punishments (no dessert, no biscuit, no story, no game). Obviously I never smack either. I used to get smacked/hit and I don't think it ever did much for me.

We've been going through a bad patch with my daughter just now (very similar to what you described) and I think it's crucial that you stick to your guns (as you did) - often it's just a power struggle, and you need to win it. It's heartbreaking, but necessary because I'm guessing that the monster they would turn into if they were let away with everything is not something we could live with.

(This is the part of parenting I hate the most of all.)

Lady Mama said...

Mwa - I prefer positive reinforcement too, where possible. I try to use time-outs only for the really bad stuff.