MotherWire Magazine Cover

May 1, 1997

Are time Outs Really Effective Enough?

By Laurie Kobliska, Editor

SACRAMENTO - 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 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 when about 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."

Dr.Blum 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 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 quarrles.

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, suggests Dr. Blum. "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 once you've undone all your hard work and wasted alot of valuable time and energy.


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