From the "Thanks -- We Needed That" Department...


March 09, 1995

A DISPATCH from the "Thanks -- We Needed That" Department brings another tip for harried parents, courtesy of the Office of Public Affairs at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.:

Parents seeking to discipline young children may rely too much on the infamous "time-out." Instead they should establish rules with logical consequences for breaking them, says an expert in child behavior at The Catholic University of America.

"When a child misbehaves, you need to discipline your youngster. But sometimes you also feel a need to dispel your anger," says Barbara Early, an assistant professor of social work. "When anger's involved, it might be better for a parent to take a time out."

Time-outs are best used for children under age 7 and are most effective when used the correct way.

"Time-out really means 'time out from positive reinforcement'," Ms. Early said.

"A good time to use it is when a child is doing something socially unacceptable, such as running around indoors without control, and needs a short break away from others."

Time-outs should always be short, she said. "A good rule of thumb is no more than one minute for every year of age."

The tool isn't the universal answer to every discipline problem, Ms. Early said. When children break family rules, natural consequences should follow the behavior -- for example, children who make a mess should clean it up.

"Discipline should focus on long-term goals. It shouldn't be a power struggle between you and your child," she said. "While a lot of negative behavior is maintained by negative attention, encouraging and reinforcing positive behavior will build and strengthen that behavior."

Ms. Early never recommends spanking. "It teaches nothing positive," she said. "It models the use of negative behavior, and it tells a child it's OK to pick on someone smaller than you."

Parents often resort to spanking out of their own anger, Ms. Early noted, "and there are much healthier ways to cope with your anger."

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