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Get the most from timeouts

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If you use timeouts to discipline your children for undesirable behavior, you're in good company. Most parents report using timeouts to some extent. Here are some tips for getting the most from timeouts:

Until the age of about 18 months, a child cannot understand the meaning of timeout. Trying to start before then will most likely frustrate both of you.

Hold timeouts in a specific location - a safe, but boring, place with a chair or bench. In general, avoid rooms and play areas where there are distractions or comfy places to rest. If you're at a friend or relative's house, just remove the child from the situation to allow time to cool down.

Explain what will happen to your child before you start using timeouts. You may even want to role play with your child. When the time comes to begin using timeouts, do so without further discussion or warnings and be consistent.

Set age-appropriate ground rules. For example, explain to a 2-year-old that hitting and temper tantrums earn a timeout. A 5-year-old should understand that mean-spirited teasing or name-calling also deserves a visit to the bench.

Don't make a lot of fuss. In giving a timeout, you don't want to rant and rave or give your child a detailed explanation of the problem behavior and why it was wrong. In fact, the fewer words the better. If, for example, your child hits a playmate, you might say, "NO hitting - that hurts." Then place the child on the timeout chair to cool off. Staying calm yourself not only models the appropriate behavior, it shows the opposite of the reaction your child expected.

Use timeouts sparingly, usually for one or two problem behaviors. A useful guideline may be one minute per year of the child's age. Exiling a toddler for a half-hour could be counterproductive - a toddler will only get frustrated and misbehave all over again.

Praise self-control. Children will begin to understand that timeouts are for times when they are out of control. When they are calm and collected, they may rejoin the family or playgroup. In addition, when you witness your child choosing desirable behavior, pile on the praise. If, for example, your child uses words rather than aggression, make sure you compliment that behavior.