After my grandparents passed, we inherited their fireside bench. It was nice, cushioned, about 4-ft long, comfortable. We put it in our living room. However, in short order, it became the location for time-out punishment for our kids. “Son, really?? Go to the bench!!” After a while in use, THE BENCH became our hallmark of time-out. Our kids would just see my look, without words, and acknowledge, “I know, Dad. Go to the bench.” With the required sigh of consternation.
I actually studied the impact of time-out on troubled kids as a part of my doctoral research. I compared 5-minute and 30-minute time-outs in a classroom setting where the students were all troubled kids. I measured self-esteem, understanding of the consequence, and relationship with the teacher. With the longer time-out, the student’s self-esteem went down, they were clueless about why they were in time-out, and the teacher was the enemy.
A general rule of thumb is to give a length of time-out no longer than twice your child’s age. So, a 10 year old boy would top out at a 20-minute time-out. Be sure, however, to check on your child every 5 minutes or so, using your active listening to help lower his emotional fever during the time-out.
Finally, before a time-out is completed, ask your child these questions. “So, son, what did you specifically do that got you this time out? How did that work out for you? What could you have done to have avoided this time-out? In the event that you have these feelings or circumstances again, what are you going to do differently, so that we don’t have to have this conversation again?”
Given the severity of the behavior, your child could have both a time-out and a consequence. Time-out is simply designed to give him space to think about what just happened, cool his jets, and come back to the family with a calmer head. A natural consequence following a time-out provides a choice point for your child. “Is it worth it to me to act out again, or can I handle it better?” Such natural consequence might be giving apology, verbal or written, returning the item, writing definitions related to the behavior, or other behavior to help the problem be a learning experience for your child.
How much time-out works best? The shorter the better, but make sure it’s strategic, so it will be another teachable moment.