Kids' Reaction To 'Time Out' Varies


Scripps Howard News Service

In child care, "time out" is the ordinary punishment for naughty behavior. Although some parents resent the idea that their child is routinely punished for "just being a kid," most parents and providers understand that enforcing limits makes day care more enjoyable for the whole group.

Ideally, time out is a separation from ongoing activities that gives the child a chance to reflect on his social blunder. Do little kids actually reflect such things? Not the way adults do, because little kids don't have the rationalization skills adults use to prove themselves right, no matter what. Instead, little kids search out why they are sitting in time out. They ask questions about what exactly they did wrong, and sometimes they figure out how to avoid that in the future. The best ones will apologize, which shows they are far more civilized than most adults.

The response to time out is amazingly complex. Some children will cry immediately at being sent or taken there. They are either truly sorry or completely outraged at being separated from the group - outraged at being singled out, outraged at being caught breaking the rules and outraged at the punishment. Not me, not now, not ever.

These are the "sobbers." They cry with what seems to be an inconsolable passion. It lasts about two minutes, then their eager faces tell the provider the passion play is over and it's time to go back to play.

The "sulkers" go off huffing and puffing and blowing the house down with stomping and giant sighs. This anger is usually a defense that tries the provider's scheme of justice.

Children using this tactic will argue in their defense, change the story, change the players and generally rewrite the whole play. It's very creative and can be wonderfully funny.

The "silent mads" are usually the scorekeepers. They know just who usually sits in time out, and they regard time out as a really humiliating experience. These kids rarely sit in time out because their scorekeeping usually keeps their own behavior impeccable.

With every child, time out has a different implication and a different effect. Caring providers know this and will try to fit the punishment to the child.

There are children who never sit in time out, and it's not because they never make a mistake. They do, but they will respond to a simple verbal correction.

How much more wonderful to be able to say: "Alex, you know we don't color on our neighbor's art work. You need to color your own." He stops.

Another child might need time out because he just won't leave another child's work alone no matter how many times he is told to stop.

When the adult is quick to sight a problem and directs the action simply, directly, firmly in a kindly and loving manner, children will usually cease most social blunders, and that's the goal. It makes time out relatively rare and usually effective.

(Judy Lyden is a licensed day-care provider. Write to her:
c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN
47702, or e-mail to

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