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Monday December 7, 1998

Are time Outs Really Effective?

By Laurie Kobliska, MotherWire Magazine Editor & Publisher

FREMONT - A new book on Mother's reading list is "Behavior Modification: What It Is and How to Do It," authored by Garry Martin & Joseph Pear.

This is an easy to read introduction to behavior modification. It provides mothers with simple to understand principles of behavior modification and how to use them in helping children achieve their academic and social potentials.

It can provide a great deal of help to children in learning life's necessary skills. It also can be consulted for ways to solve some of childrens' troubles in following parental direction.

This text is filled with real-life descriptions and "how-to" guidelines for using 'time outs' and 'cooling off' periods. There are topics that focus on solving a wide variety of problems in many settings with different types of personalities among children, and an entire chapter that itemizes the steps in the behavior modification mothers need to practice.

According to the latest research, many strategies for discipline only reinforce the behavior we're trying to change. What do you do when your kids won't listen? They're not always little angels, are they?

Why do children continue to misbehave after multiple time outs and punishment? Explaining what they did wrong and perhaps why they did it doesn't always work and parents begin to blame themselves and often lash out in frustration by shouting and yelling at their children trying to get a message across.

Child development specialists addressed some real-life disciplinary problems of kids today and how parents make poor choices in disciplinary action. These specialists recommmended several more effective ways of handling each situation.

Don't expect immediate results, though. The idea is to create a stronger foundation for fewer problems as they mature. "Toddlers and preschoolers respond to verbal explanations of right and wrong," says Nathan J. Blum, M.D., of the Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

According to recent studies, Dr. Blum found that reasoning and warnings do not work with children under age 5. Research shows that this age group has trouble telling the difference between their point of view and the point of view of others. They cannot differentiate cause and effect.

Dr. Blum says the young children interpret any talk as attention. Even if it's negative, it's attention. They tend to misbehave again to get more of it. In one study on sibling rivalry, for example, toddlers hit their brothers and sisters more after parents told them to stop.

So what are parents to do? Anticipate situations that spark misbehavior and try to head them off. Give your child advance notice of a situation. For example, when it's time to leave the playground, let your child know about fifteen minutes before that it's almost time to go home. And then offer reminders to prompt your trip home. Suggest that your child begin saying his good-byes and put on his shoes etc.

And what about when misbehavior does occur? "An immediate but brief time-out-one minute for each year of age," Dr. Blum says. Keep explanations brief for example, "No hitting."" No throwing."

His book also recommends that you be highly selective in the behavior you punish. Preschoolers whine so much that you could easily have them in time-out all day.

Punish for the behavior that puts a child at risk or that damages property. Experts say that age 5 through 8 a parent should resist the temptation to for strong punishment. Parents often think of punishment first rather than alternatives Discipline becomes easier in the early school years because kids are old enough to understand your explanations and warnings.

Ignore any back-talk during the heat of the moment, for the same reason that you should ignore the tantrums of a two-year-old. Don't give the child the satisfaction of a reaction. When you are both calm then discuss what happened.

You'll have the most success if you take advantage of their sense of independence and give them the freedom of decisions. For example, when to clean up their room(before, or after dinner) Still tell them they can't play till they have done what you have asked them to, according to Dr. Blum.

What about rewards to get kids to do what you want? The time to reward children , whether by praise or other means, is for good behavior. From age 9 to 12 a skillful parent-child talk can be the best way to control the problems that come up in the preteen years--such as not doing homework, staying up too late, or sibling quarrels.

As your child grows up, you have to do more than just give them orders and simple explanations. "Present the problem to them," says Dr. Blum. Listen to your child's response and, if you can't agree, work out a compromise. Independence is important for kids this age, so use that to help you whenever possible".. "Make things related to independence contingent on having kids do what you want them to do" he says.

But suppose your child defies the rules... Grounding for a day or two can work, but you may find it more effective to try grounding to a particular task such as, no TV until the yard is mowed . This requires that the child listen to the parent and do something he may not enjoy.

Whatever the age, be consistant with your disciplinary choice. A child needs ground rules and limits and if you don't stick to them, even after they've undone all your hard work and wasted your valuable time and energy.

In a helpful book for mother, The Difficult Child by Dr. Stanley Turecki, one of MotherWire Magazine's readers said she saw her son in the first few pages of that book. "While not all descriptors fit him," she said " ... I felt a sense of relief that his tempermental challenges were not all that unusual."

She went on, "Now I know to be patient and let him know that the things that bother him like zippers, buttons, holes in socks or jeans, collars, you know, the things that just don't feel right" - don't make him bad. He now knows that his Mom understands that these things bother him and she's not going to force him to wear them. Unfortunately, Dad's not quite on board yet.

Dr. Turecki helps parents and teachers understand the "normal" difficult child and discusses how to manage behavior effectively for the child's benefit both now and in the future.


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