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A child is placed on a chair for time-out and they keep leaving it. The parent returns them to the chair forty times in a row. Finally they decide time-out is not worth the trouble. They begin to ignore the child’s offense. The child grows up undisciplined and sky-dives off buildings with stolen artwork in their backpack and international authorities in hot pursuit. Or something like that, right?

Is a parent a total failure if their child doesn’t respect time-out? Or just normal?

Here is one option: Explain clearly that they must sit quietly on that chair for the designated time (most parents use one – two minutes per year of the child’s age); and until they have given you that allotted time, their time-out is not over. If the child becomes unruly, you can put them in their room (without toys), but they still owe you the time-out on a chair.

It may take a loooong day or two, but most children begin to accept that the few minutes on the chair are doable. And you can sleep at nights, no longer afraid that your child will become the banes of society.

Eventually, parents realize time-out is not the solution to all things. As your child gets older, time-out produces diminishing returns. After six years of age, another approach is usually needed.

The loss of privileges, beloved toys, and activities become the next disciplinary tool. However, when you remove a toy (or video game), put the forfeited item in plain sight, not in the top of your closet or buried in the back yard with a cryptic map to it’s location. The principle “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t help your cause.

The Boys Town model calls this the “Pawn-broker method.” They are given a visual reminder of what they have lost, but it is beyond their reach.

Then put a tag on the item (or add it to the note identifying the grounding) that explains what is required to get the item or privilige back. (A grounding is a loss of phone privileges, computer time, going out with friends, anything electronic—in other words, anything your child usually spends their time doing, or looks forward to.) Take away the fun.

Next, give them a specific list of jobs that they are to do—based on the offense and age of the child—to redeem the item or privilege. Don’t give them jobs that are necessary for the maintenance of the home, such as taking the trash out, because these jobs for redeeming the item or privilege are not given with a designated completion time. The consequence is that they lost something they want, not that they have to redeem it in a certain amount of time.

So save the trash for their daily chore list. For the redemption chores, give them tedious, annoying, non essentials. Such as shine the front left wheel of your car. Shine the front right wheel of your car. Clean the gardening tools. Sweep the front walk. (It’s actually fun for parents to come up with these. Don’t forget the basement windows.)  

When you first take away a privilege, don’t discuss the consequence. Tell your child, “Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to earn it back.” This gives the child time to think about the offense. It also gives a guaranteed minimum time for the consequence. And it gives you time to think up some jobs. (Wipe down the treadmill, spray out the cat’s litter box, wipe down the bathroom light bulbs. . . see? I told you this could be fun.)

See also Conversations with Your Children II and other parenting posts.