The Crucial Time Out Mistake You're Probably Making

A new study says many parents aren't using time-outs effectively.
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When my toddler is "sentenced" to a time-out, she acts as if I've just banished her from the country for the rest of her life. That's how big of a fight she puts up! But in a way, I get it, because being sent to time-out means she has to sit on the stairs, alone, without any toys or books, and I essentially ignore her until she calms down. B-O-R-I-N-G.

Turns out, boring is exactly what you want when it comes to time-outs, if you want to make sure this form of discipline is effective. But according to a new study in the journal Academic Pediatrics, not enough parents are making time-out boring enough.

Researchers looked at more than 400 parents of kids ages 15 months to 10 years, and found that 3 in 4 use time-outs in response to bad behavior. The bad news is that 85 percent aren't using the punishment effectively.

"The biggest mistake in my clinical experience is that parents do too much talking, and that was true in the study, too," explained lead study author Andrew Riley from the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. He added, "If parents are talking to their kids during time-out, it's not boring enough and might not work very well. Explanations are fine, but should wait until the time-out is over."

According to the research, time-outs are most effective when parents give one warning to stop bad behavior, then enact the time-out without elaborate explanations, and then withhold attention and stimuli from the child for the duration of the time-out.

The research also noted a decrease in the use of spanking and other forms of physical punishment. Specifically, 74 percent of parents said the best way to discipline a child is to take away a privilege, 64 percent relied on scolding or reprimanding children, but just 7 percent supported spanking.

I related to the 1 in 4 parents who admitted to giving in to their kids. I'll admit I am guilty of doing that once in a while. Because it's exhausting disciplining kids, day in and day out. Once in a while, I can't help but say, "okay" when they beg for me not to take away the toy, or put them in time-out, or suspend their TV-watching privileges. "One more chance!" I'll warn. And of course, that one more chance can turn into two, or three. Oops.

Meanwhile, I'm a firm believer that discipline is about recognizing good behavior too, so you can show your child not only what behavior you won't tolerate, but what you expect and want to see them do. Researchers found that 83 percent of parents praise kids and give them extra attention when they exhibit good behavior, while 69 percent reward kids.

The bottom line is that disciplining kids isn't easy; it's complicated, and messy, and you'll make mistakes. The key is consistency, and not coming from a place of anger. In my experience, when you are calm, things go a lot more smoothly!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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