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Positive Time Out

Air Date: 04/05/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at   I have a Facebook page. Actually, it's a "Parenting with Cheryl Erwin" Facebook page and you can get news on issues related to parenting, as well as updates on upcoming topics. People also post questions there, which I love, since it makes writing these little commentaries much easier. I've noticed that many of the parents I talk to share a common question. They wonder, and I'm quoting here, what to do when "time out" stops working.             Well, I suppose that depends on a couple of things. First, it depends on what you mean by "working." And second, it depends on which version of "time out" you happen to be using. My personal theory is that the first item is absolutely dependent on the second item-but almost no one seems to realize that.             Time out appears to be the favorite parenting tool of many, many parents these days. I'm guessing that's partially because parents don't feel comfortable spanking but they want their child's behavior to change and words alone are ineffective. Time out feels like you're actually doing something without being "mean." So parents lock their toddlers into the high chair and set a timer for one minute for each year of age. The toddlers are supposed to consider their behavior thoughtfully and be inspired to do better next time. Or children are sent to their rooms to "think about what you did." Sometimes the time out lasts for a few minutes; other times, it goes on for hours.             Parents occasionally add some counting to the procedure. They tell a misbehaving child, "That's one..." "That's two..." And on the count of three, a time out happens. This can get complicated if you're out in public and don't have a high chair or room available. I've also noticed that kids quickly figure out they don't actually have to do anything until the parent makes the "th" sound. Then they smirk, and scamper to comply before the time out is given. Who, I ask you, is training whom? And what does "working" mean? I think time out "works" for most parents when kids give in and do what parents want. But is that always a good outcome? Is time out ever helpful? And if so, when? Well, children have to be old enough to comprehend the purpose of time out. If your child is younger than two and a half or so, he probably doesn't understand time out the way you think he does, since the ability to connect cause and effect isn't fully developed yet. With toddlers, the best discipline is distracting them, redirecting their behavior, or simply moving them somewhere else as often as it takes. Yes, it's exhausting-but it's the most effective way of teaching. If your child is older, ask yourself what he's actually learning about you, about himself, and about life in your family from the way you use time out. If you find yourself in a power struggle to make your child stay in time out, trust me: it isn't working.             Time out is most effective when it's used to help everyone-parents and kids-calm down so they can find a solution. When human beings get angry or frightened, the prefrontal cortex in our brains-the part that controls impulses and solves problems-actually disconnects. Most parents have been there: we call this "losing it" and it's rarely an effective way to parent. Kids lose it, too, especially because they're younger and less mature. No one can think clearly or solve problems effectively when he's angry, so a "time out" is literally a moment to step outside the situation, calm down, and figure out what to do next. If you're using time out as a punishment, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it doesn't work effectively.             You can brainstorm with teenagers about ways they can calm down in order to have a respectful conversation with you about their attitude or behavior. You can invite younger children to help you create a "positive time out" or cool-off spot. The purpose of this spot is to help them calm themselves, so you can stock it with books, stuffed animals, or favorite toys. If you're out in public, you can return to the car and wait until everyone is calm. Once that happens, you can work together to solve the problem. You always return to solving the problem, by the way-you just do it as reasonable, thoughtful people who actually love each other.             A positive time out is intended to help children manage their emotions and work on solving a problem with you. And in case you haven't already figured it out, the person who usually needs the time out is the parent. Time out is not the only tool you'll need in your parenting tool box, but it can be a helpful one when used effectively. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.