One of the most effective forms of discipline in reducing challenging behaviour in young children is “Time-out”. This term is taken from “time out from positive reinforcement”. It works on a simple strategy of selectively ignoring the disruptive behaviour. In this process, children are removed from all sort of attention of peer group, parents or teacher for a brief time period. In this strategy, usually the child is removed from an ongoing activity for a short time, especially by having the child to sit separately within the classroom until he/she calms down and ready again to re join the activity. Time-out is generally a “cooling off” period for the child and also intended to be a non violent response that controls the behaviour. Time-out, in its comprehensive approach, is effective when it is designed to nurture, teach and to encourage a positive social behaviour.
Time-out should be used by well trained teachers/caregivers to teach new behavioural skills and to prevent challenging behaviours from occurring again. Time-out is considered to be a comprehensive approach in supporting children’s behaviour. Although this theory has been proved to be very beneficial, it shouldn’t be overused and also should be reserved for some high intensity challenging behaviours. However, the use of time-out is not recommended for very young children like toddlers or infants.
When to Include “Time-Out” to Address Challenging Behaviour
Time out can be used to intervene with a child when he doesn’t respond to the redirection and the guidance given by the teacher/caregiver to follow certain behaviour expectations. Time-out provides the chance to calm down when the child is engaged in a challenging behaviour which is disruptive to the classroom or sometimes hurtful to other children as well. The teacher should make sure to talk to the child about the problem situation once the child is calmed down. She should also restate the behaviour expectations and also explore problem-solving options. Sometimes, children just engage in problem behaviour to gain attention from the teacher or peer group, for example, if a child destroys some materials or hurts others, a planned or structured time-out may be quite useful to remove that child from any attention paired with suggesting the child to seek attention in an appropriate manner. Time-out also serves as an effective strategy for providing the child with a structure for expressing feelings. Time-out shouldn’t be used in a case where the child is trying to move away from the adults or to get out of some activity.
Planning for the Use of Time-Out
Teachers should have an extensive training in using this technique and should know how, when and where to practice time-out. Every teacher should have a structured and well-understood sequence of events. Time-out should occur only within the classroom environment and should be closely monitored by the teacher. It is also very important for the teachers to provide guidance to friends of the child to help, when he/she is in time-out. Once it is decided that time-out has to be used, the following steps should be followed:
1. The challenging behaviours should be described to all the staff so that they know exactly what behaviours should result in time out. Mild pushing or aggression should not be the reason to use time-out. It should be reserved for highly aggressive behaviours. In addition to this, some pro-social behaviours should also be specified that can be taught alternatively and encouraged whenever required in the classrooms.
2. Teachers should carry out this technique in a calm and respectful manner. She should not get angry with the child or use any hurtful words. Whenever any challenging behaviour occurs, provide a brief explanation to the child, such as, “you should not hit your friends like this, so you need to sit on this corner chair until you are calmed down”. There should be no interaction with the child, either positively or negatively.
3. Time out should be brief, not more that 3 to 5 minutes. Generally it is said number of minutes equals to the number of years or the age of the child. However, some children may need longer time to calm down, so individual differences should be kept in mind. Time out- should be monitored carefully and should be ended up as soon as the child is calmed down. Children should make learn to understand that time-out will be over when he/she is calmed down and can rejoin the ongoing activity. This practice helps children develop self controlling behaviours.
4. Time-out should not be overused or used incorrectly. Remember, it is only effective when used infrequently. Alternative methods should also be used to interrupt the challenging behaviour.
5. Teachers should not threaten the child with “time-out” if the don’t behave or they themselves want a break from the child.
6. Also ensure that other children in the class should not be teasing the child when he/she is in time-out.
7. Placing a child to time-out should never be accompanied by scolding or berating the child in any way.
8. If still, time-out is not working with any child, and the problem behaviour persists, they may be provided with additional assessment and support services from mental health consultants.