"If you hit, you sit (out)" is a great short and snappy way of remembering and offering a logical consequence to your kids for bad behaviour, such as hitting. Even better, it meets the requisite 3 R’s of consequences: respectful, related and revealed in advance.
If your find your toddler hitting, the consequence must be logical to them: "If you choose to play co-operatively you may stay here with your friends. If you choose to hit, which is unsafe, you must go somewhere else because we need to feel safe when we play together. When you decide to play without hitting we would love to have you back".
Here’s my advice on how to use a time out (the “sit”) properly:
1. Of utmost importance: the length of time is decided by the child. Whenever they decide to choose to play without hitting they can come back.
2. The emphasis is on participating in the group with safe pro-social behaviours that meet the needs of the situation. It is about safety and other ways to problem solve, not about being "nice" or "not doing what you’re told" which is all about listening to authority figures.
3. I recommend not using the phrase "time out" as it is has a negative connotation with children.
4. I recommend the child stay close to the fun they want to get back to rather than hiking all the way to their bedroom. You want the children to be motivated to quickly decide to act differently and come back ASAP.
5. Do not have a time out chair/area – that introduces a stigma which is punitive, and speaks to having negative expectations for the child’s future behaviour. Very discouraging.
6. "One minute of time-out for every year" (often recommended by time-out proponents) is NOT a good method. If the child decides they want to come back and there is still time on the clock, they’ll spend the remaining time building resentment and anger, and the child may seek revenge.
TTFT: Take time for training
After the time out, try saying the following:
- "Our hands are for hugging and holding" (Invites the behaviour we want to see)
- "It is not okay to hit people. We need to feel safe when we play." (Be clear, not angry)
- "You need to speak up and use your words – not your hands." (Help start problem solving through verbalizing)
Once you have said these things once – YOU ARE DONE. They are bright, they heard you. After all, how many times did you have to tell them that cookies are kept in the cookie jar on the counter?
Offer Choice: "Can you stay and play safely or do you need to go?"
Follow Through: "I see (because you keep hitting) that you need to go" and guide them to the side of the room or someplace neutral on the sidelines of the action out of the centre of the action.
Action Not Words: Once they’ve been in this time out once, you can just take their hand and guide them to the side. No words needed.
Firm and Friendly: Watch that body language. Stay calm and composed. Your emotions, disapproval, or exasperated looks interfere with the learning.
Remember: When they choose to come back – that is fine. "Hi – I am glad you’ve chosen to come back. It’s more fun when we play all together."
Tip: Don’t go overboard with this noticing. If you do they may decide that is enough payoff to encourage them to get themselves into time outs just so they can steal the show with a grand re-entrance! And this does happen.
About the Author:
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t Misbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at www.alysonschafer.com.