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Beyond Time-Outs – What to do When Your Toddler Acts Out

When your child takes the crayons out of the closet and draws on the living Time-Out-Main-Landscaperoom walls, a common reaction would be to put him or her in time-out. After the time-out, your child goes back and draws on the walls again. What is happening? Sometimes, time-outs aren’t the best way to show your child what’s appropriate or inappropriate.

What is a time-out?

A time-out is a procedure that is used to decrease future occurrences of a specific behavior (e.g., drawing on the walls with crayons). There are many types of time-out procedures that can be utilized.

A time-out can be beneficial when the “cause” of the behavior is determined. A child engages in these behaviors to communicate his or her wants/needs. For example, if Jessie is playing on the playground with her peers and kicks David, Jessie may be attempting to remove David from playing on the jungle gym or gain attention from David to play with him. It’s important to pay attention to what happens right before and right after the behaviors occurs to help determine what your child is communicating to you.

Time-outs can be harmful when the person implementing the procedure overuses it and it becomes his or her “go-to” method for all target behaviors. Since time-outs are used to remove reinforcement for a portion of time, the procedure does not teach positive behaviors that the child can engage in instead.

There is evidence that time-out procedures are effective, however; other less restrictive methods, such as reinforcement, can be just as effective in isolation or in combination with time-outs.

What can you do other than a time-out?

Since time-outs can be very restrictive, interventions that include reinforcement and proactive procedures can help decrease the future occurrences of a problem behavior. They can also help reduce the need to use time-outs. Here are a few strategies that can help reduce problem behaviors:

Proactive Procedures (procedures that occur before a behavior):

  • Provide choices for activities/items (when possible): Select between two and three choices at one time to avoid overwhelming the child.
    • Example: If Johnny is about to eat dinner, you can provide him the choice of which vegetables to eat by saying, “Would you like carrots or peas with dinner?” This may decrease Johnny’s refusal behavior by allowing him to make his own choice, rather than being instructed to do something.
  • Give frequent reminders and expectations throughout the day: This can be in the form of vocal or visual displays (e.g., speaking to your child or showing him or her pictures of the expectations).
    • Example: If Debbie has a doctor’s appointment at 3 p.m., you can say, “Remember, you have a doctor’s appointing at 3 p.m., then we can get ice cream at your favorite store!” You can provide this reminder every two hours until 3 p.m.

Reactive Procedures (procedures that occur after a behavior):

  • Provide specific praise for appropriate behaviors: Specific praise includes the particular action that the child did in addition to the positive words (e.g., “Wow!” “Great job”) or actions (e.g., high fives, hugs) provided.
    • Example: If your child is politely asking his sibling for a toy she’s playing with instead of kicking her to gain access to the toy, say, “Awesome job asking your sister for the toy. That was really nice of you Billy.”
  • Ignore the problem behavior and only attend to the appropriate behaviors (if there is no immediate danger): You can help your child engage in the appropriate behavior by modeling or prompting the response.
    • Example: If your child is screaming to access the cookies on the top shelf, you can ignore the screaming and tell him, “If you want the cookies, you can say, ‘Can I have one cookie please?’” Then you can provide attention and praise when he complies with politely asking for the cookies instead of screaming.

Providing attention and praise to your child’s appropriate behaviors may help decrease the frequency of problem behaviors and need to use time-outs. To help with the use of time-outs and other intervention strategies to treat both appropriate and problem behaviors, contact a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in your area.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Messy room

Time-Out Gone Wrong: My Child Destroyed Their Room!

For some children, especially older ones, their bedroom is the most logical place to spend a time-out.  Careful that it is not overly reinforcing with a computer, videogame devices, phone, etc.  And what happens if they trash their room?  First, no emotion from you.  Bite your tongue, walk away, do whatever you need to do to not show your absolute fury.  And then?  Let them live with their mess.  Give them a few days and talk to them about what happened (when you are both calm) and offer to help get things back in order.  Yes, you did not have a part in its destruction but children, even older ones, have a difficult time initiating this job because they do not know where to start and have not yet developed the organization skills. Messy room

If the thought of standing by while your child trashes their room makes your skin crawl, try these alternative consequences to a time-out:

  1. Early bedtime
  2. Removal of a privilege (phone, TV, videogame, having a friend over).  Make it as immediate as possible for optimal effectiveness.
  3. Give an unpleasant chore to be completed that day or evening

Time-outs and privilege losses are not meant to be punishing in and of themselves.  While your children may not realize it in the moment, they are learning an important lesson in emotional regulation and how to cope with real-life situations.

 

Phelan, Thomas. (2010). 1-2-3 Magic: Effective discipline for children 2-12. Glen Ellyn, IL: ParentMagic, Inc.

 

The 411 on Tantrums

Temper tantrums usually occur between the ages of 1-3 and are typically common in both boys and girls.  Children might throw tantrums because they are seeking attention or cannot get what they want.  In addition, they also might throw a tantrum because they are hungry, tired, or in discomfort.  Tantrums are common during a child’s life when the child is acquiring language and trying to complete more things on his own.  A child typically understands more than he can communicate and not being able to express his needs/wants can result in a tantrum.  Once language increases and improves, the amount of tantrums seen can decrease.  Children’s temperaments are very different and can influence how often a child has a tantrum.  Some children exhibit many, where other children have few.  Just like adults, children have differing personalities that are evident even as early as toddlers, which explains why they handle situations in different ways.  For example, some children get frustrated easily where others are more relaxed and are able go with the flow.  Below are helpful tips to address and avoid tantrums.

Great Techniques to Address Tantrums:

  • Remain calm.  Getting frustrated and screaming back will only escalate the situation.  Remember to talk calmly with your child and explain why he cannot have or cannot do something.  You can also try to redirect the conversation and talk about something else. Read more