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Reinventing Time-Out

By Karen Alonge

Parents are often advised to put their child in time-out as a form of discipline. While this sure beats the old-fashioned method of spanking as a behavior management tool, it still presents a few problems. Not the least of which is - who's gonna make him go?

If he refuses, and you pick him up or drag him over there, haven't you just resorted to controlling your child using physical force? And how much different is that, truly, from spanking?

I have a proposition for you. Instead of giving your child a time-out, take one yourself! After all, YOU are the only person whose body you can easily move. And your attention is the ultimate goal of most misbehaviors.

Imagine this scenario:

Junior konks Baby over the head with a toy.

Giving him a time-out might look like this:

MOM: Junior, go take a time-out for that.

JUNIOR: No! No! I won't go!!

MOM: Oh yes you will!

And she picks him up and spends the next 10 minutes trying to make him stay on his time-out chair in the corner, while Baby sits alone on the floor, watching.

Clever Junior just scored himself 10 minutes of his mother's undivided attention. Sure, she might be yelling and angry, but she's ALL HIS, and the intensity of her attempts to control him only make her more interesting. This is why you sometimes see a child smirk while being disciplined.

Now try this on for size:

Junior konks Baby over the head with a toy.

Mama, her voice filled with loving concern, scoops up Baby into her arms and says, "Oh my goodness, Baby! I can see it is not safe for you here. Let's go play in your room for a while."

And whisks herself and Baby off to have loads of fun in his room, while leaving the instigator alone with his toys. (Of course, she must still keep an eye on Junior, so she can't go too far away.)

This time it didn't work out so well for Junior, did it? He learned that if he wants attention and company, and of course he does, then he better not hit Baby. And Mama never had to say a word to him.

Your attention is THE most powerful reinforcer in your child's world. Use it wisely! Lavish it on him when he behaves in appropriate or kind ways. And turn it to something else when he does not.

Think of your attention as a watering can - sprinkle generously on behaviors and attitudes that you want to thrive, and avoid watering the weeds. Instead of yelling or giving negative attention, which is still attention, turn your focus away from your child and on to something else until he is behaving appropriately again. If other kids are impacted by his behavior, take them with you. There is always something around at any given point in time that could benefit from your attention - a sink full of dishes, the laundry, phone calls, or a good book.

The inappropriate behavior will wither away in the drought, and sprouting in its place will be attempts to gain your attention through positive means, like apologizing or making amends. When this happens, water those gestures generously with praise, smiles, eye contact, and hugs.

This means the end of lectures, yelling, fighting, and arguing with your children. Say goodbye to that sinking feeling of helplessness when you feel out of control. You ALWAYS have control of your own attention! Harness it consciously, and it will serve you well.

Besides, disciplining in this way is so much more fun for a parent than yelling! And kids shouldn't be the only ones in the family who get to have fun. You know the old saying - the family that plays together, stays together!

Copyright 2005 Karen Alonge

About The Author
Karen Alonge is an intuitive life coach and parenting mentor with 20 years of experience helping families with all types of challenges. She offers consultations by phone, email, and IM. Clients often notice dramatic changes in their daily experience after only one session. Please visit for more information.

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