Time Out is one of the most effective behavior techniques you can use with children. Although most doctors recommend Time Out for aggressive behaviors such as hitting or biting, parents sometimes overuse Time Out by choosing this punishment for just about any infraction their children commit. There are a number of behaviors that children exhibit during the day that are bothersome, but do not reach the level where a person could get hurt or something might be broken. In this instance, it is helpful to use a lesser punishment, which I call Time Off. Time Off is an action that grows out of what psychologists call “I” messages, i.e., “I don’t like it when you…” The types of actions that Time Off helps control include annoying behaviors such as teasing or being disrespectful.
The difference between Time Out and Time Off is the following: In Time Out, the child has to sit in a specific location for one minute per year of age. If the child talks or gets up, the “clock” is reset and Time Out starts over. In Time Off the child has to go somewhere else in the house and must stop the behavior that led to the punishment. There is no set time, but the child cannot come back until he is ready to act normally. As a further incentive to get children to comply with the punishment, children who do not follow the rules of Time Off will subsequently have a full-fledged Time Out.
Tantrums are a normal part of child development. Although they typically begin at age two, it is not uncommon for children to start having tantrums as early at 18 months. The standard advice for dealing with tantrums is to ignore the child until the behavior stops. This teaches the child that tantrums are not an effective way to solve problems. Ignoring tantrums also gives the child the opportunity to learn self-control.
Although tantrums appear to come “out of the blue,” most are triggered by predictable interactions between the child and her environment. The following acronym may help parents head off tantrums before they begin: FACT.
Frustration: Toddlers become frustrated numerous times during the day. The most common triggers are not getting their way, having difficulty completing a task, or not being able to communicate due to immature language skills.
Appetite (hunger): Young children are often unaware of their body’s hunger cues and may have a “meltdown” simply because they need a snack.
Choice: Young children may have difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next and are frequently held captive to other people’s schedules, i.e., they are asked to get dressed, eat meals, or leave the house with little say in the matter. Parents can prevent problems by giving children a couple of warnings before transitions occur and by offering choices whenever possible. For example, if your child does not want to get dressed, you may be able to avoid a struggle by saying, “Do you want to wear your green socks or your red socks?”
Tired: Tantrums are often triggered because a child needs a nap, did not get enough sleep the night before, or because he is tired due to an illness. If you see this behavior, comfort your child or encourage him to take a nap.
I frequently recommend the book “1-2-3 Magic” by Thomas Phelan. It is an excellent resource on discipline for children 2 to 12 years of age.