Tag Archives: discipline

Eight Secrets About How to Talk with Parents Who Spank Their Children

IMHO, usually parents spank their children for one (or more) of several reasons.

  • They have come to believe that spanking “works.”
  • They have been told or educated about reasons for spanking, such as the old “spare the rod, spoil the child” message.
  • They experienced spanking themselves and have concluded, “I got spanked and I turned out okay.”
  • They are unaware of other discipline strategies they can use to get positive results, without hitting their children.

Each of these reasons are myths or the results of misinformation. If I wanted to get into a debate with parents who spank their children, I could easily win the argument based on logical and scientific reasoning. But, ironically, in winning the argument, I would lose the debate . . . principally because most parents who spank aren’t open to logical argument about whether or not spanking is a good thing. Instead of winning the debate, I’d be rupturing my relationship with the parents.

Over the years, I’ve learned to avoid rational argument and scientific evidence, and tell parents about these 7 “secrets” instead:

  1. Acknowledge that parents and child development researchers agree on one point: Spanking is usually effective at stopping or suppressing misbehavior in the moment.
  2. If you have spanked your child in the past, you are not a bad person; you’re just a parent who’s trying to make a positive difference.
  3. Most parents who spank their children have mixed feelings about hitting their child before, during, and after the spanking.
  4. I’ve never met a parent who wants to spank their children more; nearly all parents are looking for ways to spank their children less
  5. Even though it’s hard for some parents to believe, from the scientific perspective, spanking is linked to far too many negative outcomes to justify its use. In particular, spanking has adverse effects on mental health, emotional well-being, and child, adolescent and adult behaviors. The science on this is very one-sided in that there’s lots of science indicating spanking has negative long-term effects and very little evidence linking spanking to anything positive in the long run.
  6. If you want to spank less, you’ll need to identify, practice, and implement alternative discipline strategies. . . and that will be hard; it will take time, energy, and patience.
  7. It might help to think about learning to spank less as a sacrifice you make because you love your children. No doubt, learning and practicing alternatives to spanking won’t be the first or last sacrifice you make to be a parent. But, using alternatives to spanking might be the most long-lasting contribution you can make to your child’s future well-being and success.
  8. Medical and scientific organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and nearly every professional group on the planet, advise against using corporal punishment (including no spanking). However—and this is incredibly important—the recommendations are NOT anti-discipline. In fact, mainstream scientific views are consistent with parents as leaders, authority figures who set limits and deliver natural and logical consequences to help children learn what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. Children need their parents to set limits, because children (including teenagers) are not very good at setting healthy limits for themselves.

As my former doctoral students would attest, I’m passionate about teaching parents not to spank their children. I’m also passionate about teaching parents how to use constructive and educational approaches to discipline.

For more on this topic, check out my recent article for The Good Men Project: https://goodmenproject.com/families/how-to-discipline-children-better-without-spanking-kpkn/

Why You Should Listen to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcasts

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is live at:  http://tinyurl.com/ppppod

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that even though the PPPP has been live since October 31, John and Sara still haven’t become famous podcasters.

Apparently, these things take time.

Even so, we’ve gotten a couple fabulous reviews. Here’s one from Brittany Moreland: “For whatever reason, I have avoided “parenting manuals” of any type BUT folks this is awesome. Not only can I attest that one of the hosts (John Sommers-Flanagan) is a great person and parent, but objectively this is worth any parent’s time.”

Don’t delay. Right now you can access three PPPP episodes on our podcasting website: http://tinyurl.com/ppppod

You can also listen to all of the live episodes on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2#episodeGuid=2d80f23353e2c7f9d21af865f190d2c4

If you listen on iTunes, be sure to give it a rating. If you’re uncertain about what rating to give, we generally recommend 5 STARSJ.

On Monday, a new episode goes live. It’s titled: Get Curious, Not Furious: Discipline Again and Again and Some More.

Just so you’re up-to-date, here’s a list and description of the line-up through January:

Podcast Schedule

New podcasts will become live on a twice-monthly schedule.

October 31 – Episode 1: Dear Mom and Dad, Please be my Parent and Not my Bestie

Modern parents want high-quality relationships with their children. In this podcast Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the downside of forgoing parental responsibilities in favor of parent-child friendships. A balanced relationship where parents have strong emotional connections combined with parental decision-making authority is recommended.

November 14 – Episode 2: Practically Perfect Positive Discipline

Discipline can be a dirty (and misunderstood) word. In this episode, Dr. Sara and Dr. John knock-out old negative notions about discipline and replace them with new and research-based methods for using positive approaches to discipline.

November 28 – Episode 3: Discipline, Part 2

Dr. John and Dr. Sara continue their discussion of how parents can maintain structure and discipline in the family. In this episode they focus like a laser on specific techniques parents can use to set limits and teach their children positive family values and helpful lessons about about life.

December 12 – Episode 4: Get Curious, Not Furious: Discipline Again and Again and Some More.

You can’t get too much information about positive approaches to discipline. Seriously. That’s why Dr. Sara and Dr. John can’t stop talking about it. This episode will help parents step back and get curious about what causes misbehavior. John and Sara will review the four psychological reasons why children misbehave and focus on how to break through the obstacles that get in the way of using positive discipline strategies. This episode’s special guest: Meg Akabas, author of “52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom: Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids.”

December 26 – Episode 5: Sleep Well in 2017 and Beyond

As a locally renowned expert on helping children sleep, Dr. Sara shares her story of being an exhausted parent and offers her tips for parents who want to embrace the value of healthy sleep in their families. Special Guest: Chelsea Bodnar, M.D., a Chicago-based pediatrician and co-author of “Don’t Divorce Us: Kids’ Advice to Divorcing Parents.”

January 9, 2017 – Episode 6: Sleeping like a Baby (Should)

In this episode Dr. Sara continues providing tips on healthy sleep habits, this time focusing on babies. Medical and developmental guidance is included. Special Guest: Chelsea Bodnar, M.D., a Chicago-based pediatrician and co-author of “Don’t Divorce Us: Kids’ Advice to Divorcing Parents.”

January 23 – Episode 7: Post-Partum Depression

In this post-Thanksgiving special, Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the natural challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. The signs and symptoms of postpartum or peri-natal depression are described and specific recommendations for coping with PPD are offered.  Special Guest: Jane Honikman, M.S., author of “I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families.”

General Program Description and Co-Host Bios

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast features Dr. Sara Polanchek and Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan discussing cutting-edge parenting issues, offering specific guidance, and sharing parenting resources. This podcast is a valuable resource for all parents interested in the art of parenting well. It’s also recommended listening for parenting educators, counselors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and other school personnel who want more information on basic and contemporary parenting issues.

Sara Polanchek, EdD, (aka the Sleep Guru) is a licensed clinical social worker and Clinical Director in the University of Montana’s Counselor Education department.  Previously she was the Parenting Director at Families First in Missoula and continues to present at workshops and write articles on many issues pertaining to parenting and intimate relationships.

John Sommers-Flanagan, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Counselor Education at the University of Montana. He is the former cohost of “What is it with Men?” on Montana Public Radio and former executive director of Families First Missoula. He is author or co-author of nine books (including, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk” published by John Wiley and Sons) and many professional articles, blogs, and rants.

*All podcasts are sponsored in part by a grant from the Engelhard Foundation and support from the National Parenting Education Network.



The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast — Episode 2

Hello Parents, Fans of Parents, and Fans of Healthy Child Development:

I need a tiny bit of your time and help.

As you know, the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast was launched on October 31. Yesterday, Episode 2 became live. The title: Practically Perfect Positive Discipline. Today, I’m flexing my marketing muscles (which, as it turns out, are disappointingly more like Gilligan’s than the Incredible Hulk)

Podcasts are a competitive media genre. One way we can try to improve our status from way out here in little Missoula, Montana is for people to listen, like, and rate.

Here’s how you can help:

If you use iTunes, here’s the link. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2#episodeGuid=2d80f23353e2c7f9d21af865f190d2c4

Please check it out and if you like it, like it, and then give it the rating you think it deserves. We’re trying to get enough ratings to climb up the iTunes rating list.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can get to our podcasts via this link: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/2016

And, either way, we’d love it if you’d like our Facebook page. To do that, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Practically-Perfect-Parenting-Podcast-210732536013377/?notif_t=page_fan&notif_id=1479160427608384

In addition to your social media ratings, we’re ALWAYS interested in your supportive or constructive feedback. We also take questions and suggestions for new show topics. You can provide any or all of that here on my blog or directly to me via email at john.sf@mso.umt.edu


Dr. John and Dr. Sara, The Practically Perfect Podcasters


Happy Opposite Day

In honor of Opposite Day (which is today, January 25), this is an excerpt from our How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen book. You can check it out here:


or here:


Here’s the excerpt:

“Opposite Day” is a creative, albeit odd, game played by children around the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposite_Day). Interestingly, this game is often advocated by adults as a means through which children can learn about paradox and inverse relationships. When someone declares, “It’s Opposite Day!” it means that everything stated thereafter holds a meaning directly opposite of the statement’s content. For example, “It’s a beautiful day!” means, “It’s an ugly day!” and “I’m so happy to see you” means “I’m so not happy to see you.” Declaring Opposite Day is complicated, because if it’s already Opposite Day, the declaration is false, which has led some to conclude that declarations of Opposite Day should always begin the day before or just prior to the moment the day begins.

If you’re confused about this, you’re in good company. Although we’re tempted to declare it’s Not Opposite Day, doing so could really mean it is and then we’d have to start emphasizing how much we hope you’re hating this book and how much we hate working with parents and children, and . . . .

More seriously, we bring up Opposite Day primarily because it creatively captures the strong natural tendency for parents to use basic behavior modification principles in ways that are directly opposite to how they should be used. This chapter is designed to help you help parents straighten out—or reverse—their backward behavioral strategies in a child-friendly and parent-friendly manner.

Backward Behavior Modification: Using Boring, Natural, and Logical Consequences and Passionate and Surprise Rewards

As we alluded to in Chapter 4, backward behavior modification is endemic. Not only do parents tend to pay more attention to negative and undesirable behaviors than they do to positive and desirable behaviors, they also tend to do so with greater force or affect—which further complicates the situation. As noted previously, we learned about this complicated problem directly from teenagers who were in trouble for delinquent behaviors (see Chapter 4).

If parents engage in too much anger, yelling, or passion when their children misbehave, several problems can emerge: (1) The child will experience her parent’s passion as reinforcement for misbehavior; (2) the child will feel powerful and in-control of her parent (which is quite strong positive reinforcement); or (3) the parent will feel controlled by the child, or out-of-control, both of which further escalate the parent’s emotional behavior.

To address backward behavior modification problems, we teach parents how to use “Boring Consequences and Passionate Rewards.” The opening case in Chapter 1 is an example of the power of boring consequences. If you recall, the parents of Emma, a very oppositional nine-year-old, reported their “family was about to disintegrate” because of continuous power struggles. However, when they returned for their second consultation session, their family situation had transformed largely as a function of boring consequences. In Chapter 1, we quoted the father’s report on how he found boring consequences to be tremendously helpful. Emma’s mother was similarly positive:

Thinking about and then giving boring consequences helped us see that it was about us and not about our daughter. Before, she would misbehave and we would know she was going to misbehave and so we would go ballistic. Giving boring consequences suddenly gave us back our control over how we reacted to her. Instead of planning to go ballistic, it helped us see that going ballistic wasn’t helping her and wasn’t helping us. It felt good to plan to be boring instead. And the best thing about it was how it made the whole process of giving out consequences much shorter.

The inverse alternative to boring consequences is the practice of passionate rewards. Parents can be encouraged to intentionally pay positive and enthusiastic attention to their children’s positive, desirable, and prosocial behaviors. Passionate rewards include parental responses such as:

  • Applause or positive hoots and hollers
  • Verbal praise (“I am so impressed with your dedication to learning Spanish”)
  • Pats on the back, shoulder massages, and hugs
  • Family gatherings where everyone dishes out compliments

Passionate rewards are especially important for preadolescent children. As you may suspect, because of increased self-consciousness accompanying adolescence, passionate hugs and excessive compliments for a 14-year-old may function as a punishment rather than a reinforcement—especially if the hugging and hooting occurs in front of the 14-year-old’s peers.

Surprise rewards, presuming they’re provided in a socially tactful manner, are extremely powerful reinforcers for children of all ages. For example, with teenagers it can be very rewarding if parents suddenly and without advance notice say something like, “You know, you’ve been working hard and you’ve been so darn helpful that this weekend we’d like to give you a complete vacation from all your household chores or this $20 bill to go out to the movie of your choice with your buddies; which would you prefer?”

Surprise rewards are, in technical behavioral lingo, variable-ratio reinforcements. Across species, this reinforcement schedule has been shown to be the most powerful reinforcement schedule of all. Everyday examples of variable-ratio reinforcement schedules include gambling, golf, fishing, and other highly addictive behaviors where individuals can never be certain when their next response might result in the “jackpot.”

When coaching parents to use surprise rewards (variable-ratio reinforcement schedules), we emphasize that the surprise reward should be viewed as a spontaneous celebration of desirable behavior. Overall, we prefer this informal reinforcement plan over more mechanized sticker charts and reward systems (although we don’t mean to say that these more mechanized systems should never be used; in fact, when children are put in charge of their own reinforcement systems, these systems can be especially effective).


Praise or Encouragement or Something Else?

On the National Parenting Education Network listserv (go to: http://npen.org/ to check out their flashy upgraded website), there has been a very interesting recent discussion of the relative merits of praise and encouragement. In keeping with this topic, I’m posting a homework assignment for parents from “How to Talk so Parents will Listen and Listen so Parents will Talk.” (see: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1370905715&sr=1-5). The following assignment is designed to help parents experience the nuances between praise, mirroring (one form of encouragement), character feedback, and solution-focused questions.

Parenting Homework Assignment 8-2

Exploring the Differences between Praise, Mirroring, Character Feedback, and Solution-Focused Questions

If you’ve been given this homework assignment, you’re probably already using many good parenting techniques with your child. This assignment will help you refine your parenting approach to intentionally include even more ways of being positive with your child.

Imagine that a father is busy taking care of household chores while he’s parenting his 5-year-old daughter. She’s creating some excellent 5-year-old crayon art and approaches her daddy with a finished product and a beaming smile. Dad looks up and takes a break from his chores to admire his daughter’s artwork. He returns her grin and says one of the following:

  • “This is beautiful!” (An example of praise—a form of direct power)
  • “Thanks for showing me your drawing. You look very happy with your picture.” (An example of emotional mirroring or encouragement—a form of indirect power)
  • “You love doing artwork!” (An example of character feedback—another form of indirect power)
  • “How did you manage to create this beautiful drawing?” (An example of a solution-focused question—a form of problem-solving power)

If you can increase your awareness of these different strategies, you’ll feel more capable of being intentional and positive when interacting with your children. The result usually includes fewer power struggles and more positive parent–child relationship dynamics.

Using Praise

Using praise is simple. For example, praise includes statements like: “Great work,”  “I’m proud of you,” and “Look at what a good job you’ve done cleaning the bathroom!” When you use praise, you are clearly communicating your expectations and your approval to your child.

Think about how much praise you use with your children. Are you being clear enough with them about what you want and are you letting them know when they’ve done well? As a part of this homework assignment, consider increasing how much you praise your child and then see how your child reacts.

Using Mirroring

Sometimes children don’t have a clear sense of how their behaviors look to others (which can also be true for adults). The purpose of mirroring is to help children see themselves through your eyes. After seeing (or hearing) their reflection, your child becomes more aware of his or her behavior and may choose to make changes.

For now, we recommend that you practice using mirroring only to reflect your child’s positive behaviors. For example, if your daughter has a play date and shares her toys with her friend, you could say, “I noticed you were sharing your toys.” Or if your son got home on time instead of breaking his curfew, you might say, “I noticed you were on time last night.” The hard part about using mirroring is to stay neutral, but staying neutral is important because mirroring allows your children to be the judge of their own behaviors. If you want to be the judge, you can use praise.

Using Character Feedback

Character feedback works well for helping your children see themselves as having positive character traits. For example, you might say, “You’re very honest with us,” or “You can really focus on and get your homework done quickly when you want to,” or “You’re very smart.”

Usually, as parents, instead of using character feedback to focus on our children’s positive qualities, we use it in a very negative way. Examples include: “Can’t you keep your hands to yourself?” “You’re always such a big baby,” and “You never do your homework.”

For your homework assignment, try using character feedback to comment on your children’s positive behaviors, while ignoring the negative. You can even use character feedback to encourage a new behavior—all you have to do is wait for a tiny sign of the new behavior to occur and then make a positive character feedback statement: “You’re really starting to pay attention to keeping your room clean.”

Using Solution-Focused Questions

Problem-focused questions include: “What’s wrong with you?” and “What were you thinking when you hit that other boy at school?” In contrast, solution-focused questions encourage children to focus on what they’re doing well. For example, “How did you manage to get that puzzle together?” “What were you thinking when you decided to share your toy with your friend?” and “What did you do to get yourself home on time?”

Solution-focused questions require us to look for the positive. For practice, try asking your child questions designed to get him or her to think about successes instead of failures. After all, it’s the successes that you want to see repeated. Of course, when you ask these questions, don’t expect your child to answer them well. Instead, your child will most likely say, “Huh? I don’t know.” The point is that you’re focusing on the positive and eventually these questions get your children to focus on the positive as well.

Tips for Parents on Using Natural and Logical Consequences

The following is an excerpt from the bestselling (hahaha) book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” Check it out at: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1344466265&sr=8-8&keywords=how+to+listen+so+parents+will
The Beauty and Power of Natural and Logical Consequences

Life is not easy and children (and adults) learn through struggles, failures, and disappointments. Your goal, as a parent, is to create a reasonable, consistent, and loving home and then let your child struggle with the demands of life. These demands include very basic things like:

  • Not getting to watch television after a certain time
  • Participating in housecleaning
  • Not getting attention 100 percent of the day
  • Having to get ready and get to school on time
  • Having to wait your turn to get served dessert or to play with an especially fun toy
  • Not getting to eat your favorite food for every meal
  • Having to tie your own shoes

As you might gather from the preceding list, even little things in life can be hard for a growing child; but to learn, children need to directly experience frustration and disappointment.  

Natural or logical consequences are a necessary part of learning. They help your child get better at surviving disappointments in the world and in your family home. Natural and logical consequences are always related in some way to the misbehavior and are not given out with anger or as “punishment.”

Here are some examples:

1. Your children leave toys in a public area of the house, even though they’ve been told to put toys away when done playing. Logical consequence: Use a “Saturday box” or put the toys in timeout. This involves picking up the toys and putting them in a box and storing them away until the next Saturday (or whatever day), when they’re given back. This logical consequence avoids the overreaction (“If you don’t put your toys away, then I’ll give them away to someone else”) and the attention-giving lecture (“Let me tell you about when I was a child and what would happen if I left my toys out . . .”) and instead provides children with a clear, consistent, and reasonable consequence.

2. Your children argue with you about a consequence or about you being unfair. Logical consequence: You let your children know, “I don’t feel like arguing about this” and leave the area. You may want to go to the bathroom to take time away to further develop your planned response. While remaining friendly, another important message to give is, “I know you’d like things your way, but we have rules and consequences for everyone in our family.” Of course this may trigger another argument and you can walk away again and tell your children, “I know you can figure this out and not have this consequence next time.”

3. You cook dinner, but your children don’t show up on time. Reasonable rules and logical consequences: If you cook dinner, everyone needs to show up on time and be respectful about the dinner-eating process. That doesn’t mean everyone has to eat every bite or provide you with lavish praise for your most excellent meal, but respectful attendance is a reasonable expectation. If your child is late for dinner, one reminder is enough. No drama or excess attention is needed. Just sit down and start eating and enjoying the mealtime process. Possible logical and natural consequences include: (1) Your child prepares the next meal; (2) you put away foods after you dish yourself up and so the child has to get them out and serve himself; (3) you got there early and prepared the food and so your child gets to stay afterward and clean up; (4) no special rewards (e.g., eating dinner in front of the television); instead, your child eats alone at the table.

To do logical and natural consequences, it’s helpful to work on the following:

1. Take the “punishing” quality out of your voice and the interactions. This is not about punishment; it’s about what’s logical, reasonable, and natural. You can even be friendly and positive.

2. Prepare in advance. Because you’ll be emotional when your children are noncompliant, it’s critical that you have a list of logical and reasonable and natural consequence ideas in your head. Otherwise, you will overreact. Going to parenting classes or talking with other parents can help you identify a wider range of reasonable consequences.

3. Use small consequences. Your purpose is to teach your child. Your purpose is not to hurt or humiliate. Learning occurs best if children are not emotionally overwhelmed by large consequences. Small consequences provide plenty of feedback.

4. Use mirroring and encouragement. Reflect back to your children what they’re feeling (“It’s very upsetting that you can’t play with your toys for the rest of the week”). Let your child know that you think things will go better the next time around (“I know, if you want to, you’ll be able to remember to put your toys away next time”).

5. Don’t lecture or shame. Let the small consequence do its work.


The natural and logical consequences (for Leah and Tommy) of growing up in Absarokee, MT.

Information on Using Time-Out — Part II

One key to using time-out effectively is knowing your child well. Here’s the parent homework assignment from “How to Listen so Kids will Talk and Talk so Kids will Listen.”

Parent Homework Assignment 9-4

Following the Rules for a New-and-Improved Timeout from Reinforcement

Most parents use timeout like punishment, but punishment and timeout are really two different parenting techniques. Timeout is a less-aversive and more compassionate alternative to punishment.

  • Punishment is the application of something aversive or painful (spanking or scolding).
  • Timeout is the taking away of something positive (children are removed from opportunities to have fun or receive positive reinforcement). 

The differences between punishment and timeout are subtle but important. When using timeout from reinforcement properly, children should be calmly taken from their usually rich and rewarding environment, but they should not be punished through pinching, squeezing, slapping, scolding, or yelling.

There are two main types of timeout: behavioral timeouts and emotional timeouts. Behavioral timeouts are used in response to inappropriate misbehavior. Emotional timeouts are used to help with emotional de-escalation or calming.

Tips for Behavioral Timeouts

  • Timeout effectiveness is based on how much fun and good stuff is happening during time-in. If your child has lots of fun during time-in, timeout will be powerful
  • Timeout should be used in a boring and matter-of-fact manner. Avoid yelling and lecturing.
  • The first minute (or two) of timeout is the most important. Don’t extend timeout beyond 10 minutes.
  • There should be no pushing, holding down, or aggressive touch during timeout. Timeout is not a physical intervention.
  • Don’t use timeout as “thinking time” or demand an apology from your child at the end.
  • Don’t do more than about two timeouts a day or continually threaten timeout.
  • Teach your child about timeout through practice or rehearsals.
  • Praise your child for going to timeout.
  • Practice, simulate, discuss, and educate your child about what behaviors cause a timeout.
  • Praise your child for completing his or her timeout.
  • Stay quiet during your child’s timeout.

A behavioral timeout is used immediately after your child has misbehaved. When misbehavior happens, consider saying: “Uh-oh. That’s not okay. You need to go to timeout.” The timeout location should be a chair or pillow or other location where your child can be separated from the social or family activity. Maintain silence (other than praising your child for going to timeout). Set a timer for between 1 and 10 minutes. Two minutes is appropriate for most children. If your child refuses to go to timeout, don’t get physical; simply shift the consequence to something you can control (e.g., turn off the television or computer, send the friend home, end the family outing, assign a “when you/then you” chore, etc.). If you’ve rehearsed your timeout procedure, it should go smoothly. When timeout is finished, praise your child for completing the timeout and verbally release him or her. Explain the reason for timeout as needed.

Your child shouldn’t be required to say silent during timeout. Many parents incorrectly assume that timeout should continue until children calm down. Calming down and completing a timeout are two different issues. If your child is angry or crying, a consequence has already been delivered and so there’s no need to continue the scene until he or she is quiet. If your goal is a quiet child, timeout may not be the appropriate consequence. Instead, you may need to implement a quiet time in the child’s room or remove him or her from a social or public situation.

Tips for Emotional Timeouts

If your child has trouble calming down after one or two minutes, you may need to approach and comfort him or her. This is okay. After one or two minutes you can release your child from timeout. At that point, the behavioral timeout has ended and an emotional timeout may begin. 

During an emotional timeout children need soothing and comforting. They still may be angry or upset about not getting what they wanted and you shouldn’t give in and give them their desired outcome. Instead, give empathy, comfort, and support. Life is hard and most adults don’t like not getting what they want, either. Help them know this. Help them breathe deeply and think about happier times. Help them move past their distress and into a calmer and more comfortable place. This can be a powerful and positive experience for both parent and child. Behavioral timeouts are about limit-setting. Emotional timeouts are about parent–child bonding and emotional regulation.


Time-in should always be more fun than time-out!

A New Look at Time-Out for Kids and Parents

A New-and-Improved Timeout Procedure

This is the first of a two-part piece on time-out. Both parts (and more) are included in the book: How to Talk so Parents will Listen and Listen so Parents will Talk: http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1344118211&sr=1-5&keywords=how+to+listen+so+parents+will+talk+and+talk+so+parents+will+listen

Timeout from reinforcement is an immensely popular behavioral response cost procedure. Unfortunately, most parents use it like corporal punishment; when children misbehave, parents put them in timeout. The problem with traditional timeout as practiced in most households is that parents wield it like a stick when, technically, it’s supposed to be the taking away of a carrot.

It’s possible that problems with timeout arise because the term is so deceptively simple that most people believe they automatically understand what timeout is and how to use it. In reality, there are a number of do’s and don’ts that parents need to learn about timeout; these will be covered in part II of this special and exciting time-out series. 

Timeout from reinforcement is a very brief time period during which children are not exposed to the normally rich, exciting, and rewarding stimulation of everyday life. Timeout is not “thinking time” and it should never be more than 10 minutes. Timeout is simply a break from all potential forms of positive reinforcement (including yelling, lecturing, and glaring).

Timeout Problems and Timeout Solutions

As Kazdin (2008) suggested (see the book, Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child), if brief and humane timeouts are not working, parents should not escalate their consequences. Instead, they should make time-in more enjoyable and work with their child on positive behavior simulations (described in the next section). Escalating punishment is a bad idea.

Typical complaints parents make about timeout are: (1) My child won’t go to timeout; and (2) my child won’t stay in timeout. Kazdin (2008) described, from a behavioral perspective, how to handle children who don’t go to timeout:

“If you declare a time-out and your child folds his arms and says, No, I’m not going, and you [shouldn’t] drag him, what do you do? First, give him an extra minute penalty. You can do this twice: up the time-out from two minutes to three, then to four. Then, if that doesn’t work, take away a privilege—something significant but brief, like no TV today. Then turn and walk away. Don’t give in if he then says, Okay okay okay, I’ll do it, because then you’d be reinforcing an unwanted sequence. . . . Let the consequence do the work. Resist the temptation to add little zingers. . . .” (pp. 142–143; italics in original)

Kazdin is making several excellent points in this description of how to handle timeout noncompliance. One part bears highlighting: When children refuse to do something physical, parents should not force them into the act.  Forcing a physical act is beyond reasonable parent power and control and can result in ugly and undesirable outcomes. Instead, as Kazdin suggests, the parent should shift to a consequence over which the parent has complete control and authority (and the child’s physical movements is not one of these things).

Emotions and Emotional Timeouts

Timeouts will often elicit strong emotions and strong emotions will often elicit timeouts. This highlights the question of how to deal with children’s emotions before, during, and after timeouts.

Parents are the best experts on their own children’s emotional states and so the helping professional’s job is to help parents balance a reasonable response to misbehavior (a brief timeout) with their children’s need for empathy, emotional soothing, and emotion coaching.

Case: An Emotionally Soothing Timeout

Parent: When I try to put my child into timeout, he becomes an emotional basket case. He screams and cries and it’s really terrible.

Consultant: That sounds very hard. It really reminds me of how important it is for parents to set limits on misbehavior and provide empathy and comfort for difficult emotions at the same time. It’s possible to do both.

Parent: How do I do that?

Consultant: You need to stand firm on not giving in to whatever your child wanted before the timeout was called. So, if your child hit another boy and grabbed a toy, you would never give back the toy or put your child back with the other boy before the timeout was served. You stay firm because whenever your child is aggressive or obnoxious you cannot give in to him and give him what he wants. That’s a huge parenting rule.

Parent: Okay, I understand that.

Consultant: Then, you need to decide how much emotional support your child needs. If he’s heading toward inconsolable sobbing, you may need to make it a brief thirty-second to one-minute timeout. Right at the end, you swoop in and comfort and console and help him understand what he did wrong and what he could do next time to avoid the timeout. This is because if your child is sobbing, he’s already experienced the punishment and so there’s no need to prolong it.

Parent: But I’ve always heard you should keep your child in timeout until he behaves, or at least until he’s served one minute for each year of his age.

Consultant: There’s crazy information out there about timeout. The truth is: The first minute is the most important. Waiting for him to behave or calm down on his own could be too traumatic for both of you. And the one-minute-for-each-year is a general guideline that should be adjusted for individual children.

Parent: Okay.

Consultant: The only reason you might wait longer would be if you believed your child was pretending to be upset to get your attention. Even then, you shouldn’t wait long before offering emotional comfort, maybe two minutes.

Parent: Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure he’s not faking it.

Consultant: Another thing to keep in mind is that some children, and your son may be an example, need help with emotional soothing. He may need a calming timeout more than he needs a bad-behavior timeout. If that’s the case, find a big pillow or comfortable spot and have him do his timeout there. And if he’s really a wreck, spend the timeout with him and help him recover.

This dialogue illustrates some of the complexities and misconceptions of timeout. For example, when the consultant suggests using a big pillow for a timeout spot instead of the classic chair or corner, she’s illustrating that she understands that timeout is a response-cost procedure and not a punishment procedure. The purpose is not to inflict pain or discomfort, but to take away the “fun” of time-in. This is an important distinction for parents to understand and it can be much more productive and effective for children to serve their brief timeout in a comfortable spot (without toys or books). In fact, to promote emotional de-escalation it may even be appropriate for parents to take their child to his or her room and engage in gently playful activities while expressing empathy for the child’s emotional state and hope for emotional recovery.

Overall, when choosing to use timeouts as a reasonable consequence for specific behaviors (e.g., hitting a sibling or parent), parents should anticipate their children’s potential emotional reactions. These reactions can range from rage and anger to sadness, tears, and inconsolable sobbing. Parents should also consider emotional-recovery timeouts, during which emotional soothing takes place. Finally, parents can role-model timeout behavior by taking one themselves—especially when they’re emotionally upset and need to do a little deep breathing.



John puts himself in timeout. . .