Four Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers) Every Parent Should Know
We answer four common questions about parenting, from homeschooling and time-outs to sensory disorder and cyber-bullying
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Somewhere in the age of attachment parenting and gentle discipline, time-outs — a perennial discipline favorite — have gotten a bad rap, and undeservingly so, according to Dr. Eric Neblung, a Nyack-based psychologist and president of the New York State Psychological Association. Time-outs are an excellent way to modify behavior, he says, as long as they’re executed in a way that is both appropriate for the child and sustainable for the parent.
Truly effective time-outs — those that teach children cause and effect and encourage positive choices — are a far cry from little Johnny sitting in the corner with a dunce cap on his head. Time-outs that are doled out in anger and are merely punitive will be ineffective and frustrating both for you and your child. The most effective time-outs are those that happen directly following the negative behavior for any child two years of age and up, are brief (parenting guru Dr. Sears recommends no more than one minute per year of age), and include a clear and firm explanation at the onset, so that the child can get back to playing once they’ve served their time. But the biggest reason they fail is a lack of consistency, according to Dr. Neblung. No child, he says, wants to disengage from playing to sit quietly, so if that consequence is guaranteed, it’s far more likely to dissuade negative behaviors.
All that said, Dr. Neblung emphasizes that a proactive, positive approach to discipline is best. “Parents tend to focus on punishing and taking things away, but it’s healthier and more effective to use positive reinforcement.” This means encouraging good choices by letting your child know when you see them doing something right (“I like how you’re playing so nicely with your brother”), rather than simply punishing bad choices (“If you don’t share you’ll get a time-out”). Try offering incentives, rather than making threats. “Parents are quick to call out bad behavior — the squeaky wheel gets the oil — but the regular praise of good behavior helps foster pro-social behavior,” he says.