Ending Time Out

Not stopping the practice but ending it – quite literally – a single instance of Time Out.

But first, a quick review of beginnings.

Time Out is best started by counting. My favorite method by far is Dr. Thomas Phelan's 1,2,3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, a method wherein parents count – that's one, that's two, that's three – instances of non-compliance (including back-talk and negative persistence). At three, kids are sent to Time Out. Dr. Phelan's method is clear, straightforward, effective. If you haven't read his book, please do; it is worth every penny.

But ending Time Out, that's a little trickier. Here are 5 rules of thumb:

  1. Ending Time Out Time Out doesn't begin until your child is relatively settled.

    He doesn't have to be absolutely silent, but no yelling or hurling pillows against walls. The rule is this: Time Out starts when you are quiet.
  2. There are various rubrics for figuring out how long to keep children in Time Out – 1 minute per year of age; your child's age +2; 5 minutes regardless of age.

    In truth, the amount of time doesn't matter – children don't have a finely tuned internal clock so a minute here or there isn't going to register.
  3. Ending Time Out Parents are in charge of sending children to Time Out, and parents should be in charge of ending it.

    Don't respond to call-outs "Mom! Can I come out now?!" By the way, you can re-count this, calling up, "That's one" if your child calls out for release), and don't tell your child she can come out when she's ready.

    Set the precedent early on that you will inform your child when Time Out is over, or set a timer to do so. If your child chooses to stay in her room longer, that's fine.
  4. Ending Time Out Don't debrief.

    There is no need to review what your child did wrong or why she was sent to Time Out. Whatever started your counting, the reason she ended up in Time Out will always – 100% of the time – be that she didn't stop when you said, "That's two."

    Kids push our buttons in lots of ways; that's part of being a child. "That's one" is the signal to stop. Once you start counting, learning to stop is what matters.

    If your child gets sent to Time Out over and over again for the same infraction, talk to her about it some other time, not in the midst of counting and not right after Time Out. Help your child think of what she can do – specifically – to avoid the situation in the future.
  5. Ending Time Out Don't demand an apology.

    Regardless of what led to the Time Out, forcing a begrudging, "I'm sorry" will do nothing more than teach your child to make insincere apologies.

    For hurtful actions, wait until later, then talk with your child about the various ways we express remorse: saying "I'm sorry," doing something nice for the person we hurt, being helpful or kind, working hard to not make the same mistake again.

    Your child will absorb more of this important lesson if not made a condition of his release.

Time Out teaches children to curb their impulses, listen to directives, and manage frustration. Give warning before employing it ("That's one. That's two ..."), and end it well. May the Parenting Force be with you...