When Time-Outs Don't Work

Rewards for Good Behavior

Loss of privileges. Even though 3-year-old Ethan Absler gets read to throughout the day, taking away his storybook at nap- or bedtime is a major punishment, says his mom, Lauren, of Highland Park, Illinois. "I stack the books before our bedtime routine begins and say, 'This is how many books you may have if you put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, and get into bed.' " If he doesn't cooperate, his parents remove a book from the stack.

Determine which privilege your child likes the most -- whether it's watching television, playing with a certain toy, or going to bed at 8 p.m. instead of 7:30 -- and take it away from her if she misbehaves, suggests Ruth Peters, Ph.D., author of Laying Down the Law.

Be careful, however, not to take away too much for too long. For kids under 9, it's best to remove privileges or toys for a day at a time rather than, say, a week. That way, your child must make the choice each day not to nag or fight with her brother. Also, parents usually are too tempted to shorten lengthy punishments a few days later, which jeopardizes their effectiveness.

Warning systems. If the child perceives a large enough consequence ahead -- the loss of a favorite privilege or toy, for instance -- a warning system can work well. Dr. Phelan has long touted his "1-2-3 Magic" system. Instead of lecturing, parents just announce a number each time the child acts up: "We don't hit, Bobby. That's one." The next time he hits, you just say, "That's two!" The third time, "That's three!" -- and then enforce a consequence.

Dr. Peters suggests another kind of warning system that's effective for kids ages 3 to 7: Draw three smiley faces on a sheet of paper, and tape it to the refrigerator. When the child misbehaves, put an X through one face and write the infraction below. If all the faces get crossed off, the child loses a privilege. "It's amazing how powerful a crossed-off smiley face is to children -- they just can't stand it!" she says.

Rewards for good behavior. Helen Dolan, of Ridgewood, New Jersey, has used rewards successfully with her 3-year-old daughter, Mia. Every morning, Dolan reminds Mia about the family's biggest rules: Don't hit the cat, and don't jump on the couch. If Mia follows the rules throughout the day, she gets to pick a reward -- her favorites are helping Mom in the kitchen or getting to watch an extra video. "It's gotten to the point now where just the threat of not getting her reward is enough to stop her from acting out," Dolan says.

Dr. Peters ties the reward method into the smiley-face warning system. She suggests putting some stickers, a small toy, or a few coins into a jar at the beginning of the day. If your child ends up having three smiley faces crossed off her sheet, take away one of the "prizes" in the jar. The goal is to get through the day with all the prizes intact. Whatever system you chose, make sure the reward is appropriate to your child's age and is enticing enough for him to want to behave. And don't forget to praise him for good behavior when you give him his reward.

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