REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish News
“She stands there and sasses me,” the poor young mother cried. “She won’t go to time out. What can I do?”
Time out is an effective way to turn behavior in school-age children around, but it must be part of a comprehensive program of positive discipline. Here are secrets that you would not have realized are absolutely necessary to get your child on your side.
- Secret #1 -Time Out Is Painful. It Is A Partial Rejection Of The Child. It Can Therefore Only Be Instituted Successfully When You Are Connected to Your Child
In a negative environment, the child is simply going to tune out the purveyor of that negativity. Can you blame her? No one wants a steady dose of unpleasant interaction. Either the child will tune out, leave, or sass. Those are the three sure signs that the environment has been negative.
The antidote is to build on a foundation constructed with a strong connection with your child. The relationship with your child, if it’s good, has the resilience to overcome little bouts of negative experiences such as routine punishments and scoldings. Take the time to listen to your child. That is the single most important building block of a good relationship. After all, is it quite fair for you to expect him to listen to you when you don’t listen to him? The theory that children don’t like to talk to their parents is nonsense. I raised four and there were no such obstacles between us. Right now, it may be he won’t tell you anything but that’s probably because he doesn’t believe you will listen once he talks. I would suggest you try to establish a new relationship by showing you listen to everything. For example, if he’s whining, instead of saying, “Stop whining,” say, “It seems like you’re unhappy.”
You can read body language, too. If your daughter comes in smiling, smile back. That’s a good ice-breaker. Don’t rush to fill voids with many words. Enjoy peaceful silences with your child. Ask only one question at a time and let the question sit there between you until your child is ready or able to answer it.
- Secret #2 -John M. Gottman Concludes That People Need At Least Five Compliments For Every Negative Statement Made To Them. What’s Your Ratio?
Watch people at a party and notice how animated they get when they’re complimented. It’s human nature to enjoy strokes. John M. Gottman is a relationship researcher for over 30 years. He found that without the strokes, divorce is inevitable. You don’t want your children cutting you out of their lives when they are free to be on their own.
Here’s a bit of an experiment for you: Count how many commands, compliments, criticisms, and “No”s you give your children every day. Keep a scorecard. I think you’ll find it interesting. One of the foremost researchers into Attention Deficit Disorder, a man who dealt with the worst case scenarios of out-of-control children, Russell Barkley has parents practice bonding long before he teaches time-out techniques.
Perhaps the best role model is God Himself. It is only through His kindness that we continue to exist. Were He to adhere to strict judgment, forget it. This is not to say that there is no judgment. He has a wonderful system of integrating the two—kindness and judgment—and that is what we must try to emulate.
- Secret #3 – Figure Out How to Repeat The Rules Often Using the Same Words
Before you can ever give a time out, the children have to know what sort of behavior gets one. This may seem obvious, but I’ve noticed that many parents make up the rules as they go along and then surprise the children with them. Morality is not intuitive. (If it were, the world would not be in the mess it’s in.) Therefore, you can’t expect children to know what the rules ought to be; you can’t expect children to automatically have a sense of right and wrong. The rules must be made explicit. In fact, I strongly recommend using the exact same words each time you describe each rule. For example, “We don’t hit,” “We don’t wake people when they’re sleeping unless they’re late to an appointment,” “Homework always needs to be started before dinner,” etc.
The rules should be invoked, in the same language, so often that the children could complete the sentence if necessary. The rules can be invoked when the children have done nothing wrong, just as a review, and I strongly recommend it. Sarah was sitting nicely in the car (for a change) and her mom decided to combine two building blocks of good discipline by saying, “Sarah, you’re sitting so nicely in the car. I’m glad you remember the rule: Always strap your seat belt in the car.”
By the same token, the children will feel a sense of pride and territoriality when they have little guests over to whom they can invoke the rules. If, for example, Mark is visiting Yoni, and they both have a glass of milk with a cookie, dad can hint to Mark, “Maybe you should tell Yoni our rule about putting the dishes in the sink.” With that unmistakable hint, Mark will happily tell his friend, “Oh yeah, we have to put dishes in the sink after we use them.” In this way, Mark’s father cleverly reinforced the rule, not only by making Mark repeat it, but, more important, by getting Mark on his side in the discipline.
- Secret #4 -Punishment For Certain Infractions Should Be Expected. This Is A Great Stress Reducer
This is not only a great stress-reducer but an argument-reducer. When children know that if they lay a hand on one another, or if they are rude to parents, or if they disobey a direct order, they will have to take a time-out, they will not feel the need to argue about any individual event. Sure as nightfall at the end of the day, they know that without fail they will be punished with time out for one of these misbehaviors. The certainty of the parental response makes arguing a waste of time and without the possibility of an argument, there is no stress build-up. True, it’s not pleasant, but the added stress of going back and forth is simply not there.
Obviously, the only way to get that certainty is for you, the parent, to be totally consistent. If your child argues with you, it’s because you have coached him into arguing. You have taught him to argue, for Heaven’s sake. The behavior of arguing would have died out a long time ago if it never got anywhere. One of the rules, in fact, is: “We don’t argue over punishments.”
Now, if the child is taught to be polite, there is an exception to this. If the child politely says, “May I say something?” and then you agree that she can, then that is the opportunity for her to state her “side” of things, briefly, calmly, and politely. Your response could be, “Well, I didn’t know that. Okay, that puts a whole new light on things. You have no time out.” I don’t ever remember that happening in all my years of raising children. Usually, my reply was, “I see your point. We will discuss it further after you have finished your time out.” Because they knew I meant business, they did not argue.
- Secret #5 – Timing is Based on Age and Behavior
For the child, time out is not merely walking into her room or corner. The process itself has to be as well defined as the rules that get her there when they’re broken. Most important is the time element. A compliant child is timed based on the number of years of age. A six-year old gets 6 minutes, a 10 year-old, 10. It is insulting and counterproductive at 12 or 13. For less agreeable children, the clock only begins to run when the child stops whining, yelling, kicking, or manifesting other undesirable behaviors. These facts must be well known to the child. This way, he has a big incentive to get calmed down immediately.
- Secret #6 – If He’s Not Thinking In Time Out, It’s Not Time Out!
There should be no games, computer, TV, or phone in the time-out area. If the child has a computer in the room, then the time-out can’t be in his room. The time is meant to be spent thinking. Introspection is in short supply in our world and time-out will give you an opportunity to do your part to put more of it in! The child should be thinking of two absolutely critical ideas: (1) what was wrong with what he did, and (2) what he ought to have done instead to handle the problem.
- Secret #7 – YOU Must Exercise Self Control Not To Talk When Your Child Is In Time Out
The only words permissible to you are, “Time-out!” for the misbehavior. The child has to know that that is the rule and there is no discussion. Should he wish to argue, you are not to speak at all. Parents, I know this is difficult for you, but if you want your child to exercise self-discipline, then don’t you think you ought to? Now is not the time for explanations. First of all, if you follow these procedures, your child knows very, very well that he did something wrong, so there’s nothing your discussion will add. Second, when you talk, it encourages the child to argue more. This merely postpones the time-out. I think that in their hearts, that’s exactly what parents are trying to do! They really don’t want to go ahead with the time-out. Folks, your moral obligation is the upbringing of your child, and that sometimes requires that they be a little uncomfortable. By the way, this also means you do not shout out how many more minutes they’re getting when they don’t settle down. Put tape on your mouth if you must!
- Secret # 8 – For The Time Out To “Take,” The Child Has To Know What She Did Wrong
When the child exits time-out, she is to say three things: (1) She is to give a sincere apology. An irritated tone of voice means that absolutely nothing was accomplished during the time-out, and your response must be, “I’m so disappointed that your time in there was wasted. You’ll need to go back in until you know in your heart that you were wrong.” (2) She is to state exactly what she did wrong. (3) She is to say what she ought to have done instead.
If you agree with me on all points and admit you have not been clear, consistent and thorough up to now, you probably are wondering how to handle a very rebellious child who has every reason to believe arguing, ignoring, or sassing you will work and does not comply with time out. You need to create a three-step plan to regain your authority.
Step One: Apologize and state the rules, saying something like this: “We are really sorry we were bad parents up to now in being too lenient with you. We are supposed to teach our children all the rules of being a good person and we did not do that. When you were misbehaving, we didn’t punish you. I’m sure that must have confused you. You must have thought your behavior really wasn’t bad, because if it was, we would have punished you. Well, I’m sorry to say, it was bad and we let it go. We are genuinely sorry for not doing our job. However, we want to make it up to you by being strict, starting now. Our plan is to give you a time-out for the following misdeeds [list them]. The time out only starts after you stop resisting, whining, and so on. If it takes you two hours to settle down the first time, I understand. Little by little you will come to realize we are very sincere in our changed attitudes and you will not go on like that. Once you’re in the right frame of mind, the time out will be eight minutes since you’re eight. You’re not to play, watch TV, get on the phone, use the computer or even read a book. You’re not to do your homework either during time-out. The time-out time is for thinking about the type of person you want to be. You need to be honest with yourself and realize what was wrong with what you did and what you should have done instead. When you’re done, you’re to apologize and state these realizations you came to. Is there any part of this you do not understand?”
Step Two: Institute the connection and the compliments; make the home environment as positive and pleasant as possible.
Step Three: Be prepared for a fight. Unfortunately, when life changes radically, we’re not prepared for it. When a loved one falls ill, we’re taken aback. When the project we were so proud of fails, we’re shocked and depressed. You can’t blame the children for reacting as if they could resort to the old tricks and continue to get away with it. Once, I had a couple with a very rebellious child. She did not have one ounce of respect for her parents, not one. I told them to use a chair for time-out and hold her in the chair while standing behind her so there would be no eye contact. It took about four weeks of hours of remaining in time-out while she screamed and kicked before that child realized that after eight years her parents really did mean it, finally. She was transformed into a polite little girl, but her parents went through you-know-what to get that to happen. Well, considering they had been letting her get away with it for eight years, four weeks of torture isn’t bad. It is essential to note that you must not be rough. Your touch, though just firm enough and just strong enough to get or keep him there should not be painful. The pain is coming from losing the contest of wills, not from the physicality of the encounter.
If you cannot physically move the child into time-out, then see what assistance you can get from another family member such as your spouse, parent, brother, or uncle. If you’re ready to call it defeat now, then I don’t want to be around in 30 years when that undisciplined child is an adult. Wait a minute—I am around for that undisciplined adult. <Sigh> Do your job now; trust me, it will make it easier on all of us later.