How to Encourage Discipline in Children: Principle #9b

We have been discussing various principles for healthy, effective discipline for caregivers to consider as they set boundaries and encourage children. It is a challenge to provide a nurturing environment that is not discouraging and too controlled. In fact, it becomes an everyday task to consistently implement with great perseverance.

How to devise suitable consequences when children break the rules 

A time-out can be effective as disciplinary consequences when used correctly.
To use a time-out effectively, consequences need to be discussed and understood ahead of the disciplinary incident.

Principle #9 is a significant principle. It involves letting the child know ahead of time what consequences will be selected and imposed when he has not complied with rules.

One factor is the level of emotion the caregiver shows to the child. It is an important distinction—to show enough emotion but not overwhelm the child—not so much that he cannot hear or understand what is being said or done but that creates enough anxiety or evokes reasons to want to avoid the consequences being imposed. 

In other words, consequences that are imposed with screaming and yelling will most probably not be heard or understood; so, no matter what the consequences, if imposed with high emotion, the child will react to the caregiver’s feelings rather than to the consequences.  

Still, the child does need to know that his behavior is inappropriate and displeasing to the caregiver.  He also needs to know he is loved unconditionally. What a complex situation!

How to use a time-out effectively

An often-utilized method, particularly for young children, of creating consequences is time-out. A time-out is not intended for punishment but rather as a way to encourage both child and caregiver to calm. It should truly be a positive event. However, it needs to be used properly. Here are some guidelines for using a time-out.

  • Explain in advance what a time-out is and how it works. Explain why it will be used for specific behaviors. Do this at a time when everyone is calm and happy, not at the time of the misbehavior.
  • When the child misbehaves, state the offence briefly (e.g. “you hit your brother and that means a time-out).  Act decisively and escort the child to the time-out area.  Ignore all promises, arguments and pleas from the child and any temper tantrums. Praise the child for going quietly.
  • Keep the child in view during the time-out, but do not engage in any interaction at the time and make sure he follows-through and calms. 
  • Give the time-out in a location absent of play materials or television and away from things that might be occurring. Also, make sure the child is not engaging in interactions with a sibling or another child.
  • Praise any display of self-control.
  • Make the child stay for 1-to-2 minutes for each year of the child’s age or until the child calms, if that happens first.
  • Encourage the child to let you know when he has calmed.
  • Do not keep nagging once the time-out is over, and praise the child for calming. Reinforce any positive behavior and attempts to do the right thing afterward. Notice even small efforts to behave.

Remember that time-out can give both the child and the caregiver time to cool and it should not be made into a rigid punishment. Instead, time-out done properly should teach the child a way to get control of his own behavior. 

If you find yourself using time-outs more than a few times a day, then it is probably not the best approach to helping the child change his behavior. Other strategies may be more effective.

There will be more to come on this principle in my next post.  Thanks again for reading Lakeside Connect.

Gerry Vassar,  President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Sarah Landy, p. 408-409

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