Timeouts now a preferred form of discipline for unruly children

May 27, 1993|By Orlando Sentinel

Timeouts are in.

The form of discipline in which a toddler is removed from the scene of the crime and left alone to ponder the misdeed has become the punishment of choice among more and more moms and dads.

In fact, it's more popular, according to a national survey, than that old parenting stand-by -- the spanking.

Child development experts say it's about time. "I think spanking is not an effective long-term teaching tool," said Nancy Kellman, program director for the Parent Resource Center in Orlando, Fla. "I look at discipline as a teaching, not a punishment, kind of thing. Discipline is a way of helping kids learn how their behavior affects other people, and to learn ways to control this behavior themselves."

"Timeouts are the best alternative when kids are young," she said, adding they work best for ages 2 to 5. "I think what timeout says to your child is: 'Your behavior right now is not such that we really want you to associate with the rest of the world. I think you need to take some time out and think about what you are doing and think of a better way to behave.' "

Trouble is, timeouts can be more complicated for parents to apply than a swift whack on the rear. "You have to watch them the whole time, so you feel like you're in timeout as well," said Deborah Shearer, 40, a Winter Park, Fla., mother of two preschoolers.

"To me, logically, that doesn't seem effective. Then they start antagonizing you by inching out of the timeout zone and picking up something to play with. I don't know any child who sits there quietly. It starts to seem not such an effective method."

Deborah and her husband, Robert, have instead tried other methods, such as withholding privileges, that seem to work better.

What they haven't done, she said, is try to be as strict and authoritarian as their parents may have been.

"I think sometimes being heavy into discipline and not really understanding the child can have some damaging effects on their self-esteem and ego," she said. "If you keep coming down hard on somebody, you're threatening their independence and self-expression."

Baby boomers such as the Shearers may be reacting against the spanking and strictness that were as much a part of childhood for boomers as hula hoops and drive-ins.

In 1962, Bruskin/Goldring Research asked 1,400 parents how they disciplined their children and found that 59 percent spanked them. Last year the firm decided to repeat the survey, polling 550 parents by telephone. The number of parents who spanked their children dropped to 19 percent.

More popular methods included timeouts -- 35 percent -- and lecturing in a nice way, 24 percent. Other modes of discipline, in order of popularity, included taking away TV privileges; scolding in an unpleasant way; grounding; taking away toys, phone or other privileges; taking away allowance; sending them to bed; and extra chores.

Of all the alternatives Ms. Kellman teaches at the Parent Resource Center, she says timeout is the most popular. But she concedes it may be complicated at first and offers some ground rules: First, pick a boring place, like a chair in a corner or at the end of a room where nothing's going on.

"When you first start it, you're probably going to have to insist they stay there," she said. "Sometimes if the child is really out of control you may have to hold them there."

Other guidelines include making the timeout for a set time (the general rule is 1 minute for every year of age), explaining precisely what the timeout is for and insisting that the child remain silent during the timeout.

If your child starts playing with a toy or mouthing off? "You just say, 'OK, we start over again.' Pretty soon the kids learn that it's better to stick with it."

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