Q: My 15-month-old boy rams his little pushcart into our dog. He thinks it’s a game — a very funny one, apparently. His pediatrician strongly suggests time-outs for two minutes at a time whenever he shows aggressive behavior, which he said can start in boys at this age. He seems too young to start time-outs. Thoughts?

A: Before launching into various procedures regarding time-out, understand that toddlers (12- to 36-month-old children) are on the go with few inner controls. You must provide the control your son lacks. Between 3 and 5 years, the control you provide begins to transfer from you to the child.

That said, when your pediatrician suggested a two-minute time-out, did he offer any particulars? Were you to set him on a chair in isolation? Put him in his crib? Hold him for the two-minute time-out? Give him a time-out from the dog, keeping the dog away from the child? Give the toy a time-out, putting the pushcart away for a while, thus preventing the child from using it to harm the beloved animal?

In such situations it’s best to ask yourself, “What is my goal in this situation?” Your goal, it seems, is for your toddler to learn not to harm the dog with his pushcart, or anything else. It would be so nice if a few of the sessions in his crib or sitting on a chair would be learning enough for your child to stop the aggressive behavior.

For time-out to be effective, it needs to change or improve a child’s behavior. Ask around — most parents find frustration from this disciplinary technique, especially when the child is isolated for the time-out stint.

Therefore, it’s important to think of time-out as time away from the person, place or thing that’s reinforcing the negative behavior. Therefore, ask yourself, “What’s reinforcing the negative situation?” In this case, it’s the dog and the pushcart. When your son heads toward the dog with the pushcart, you need to put the dog in another room and the pushcart in the closet.

But even doing so may not work. You need to take “time-in” to teach him how to treat the dog by demonstrating gentle pets and play. Time-out away from any specific situation stops the negative behavior, but neglects to teach the child what to do instead.

Time-out is most effective when targeted for one specific negative behavior. The parent either takes the toy or object in question away, separates the child from the other person (or animal in this case) that’s involved in the negative altercation or removes the child from the scene that’s contributing to the negative behavior.

Say, for instance, a child is misbehaving at a birthday party. The parent can give the child a time-out from the event, but realize that the child’s behavior will likely improve more quickly if the parent goes with him. Children, isolated, don’t readily improve their behavior; in fact, quite often it turns worse.

Use time-outs cautiously, making sure that when employing them consistently for one negative behavior that the behavior actually begins to drop out of sight. If it doesn’t, try another disciplinary technique.

Time-out is an easy action for parents to take when children do something wrong. But on the proactive side, make sure you are teaching your son what to do what’s right during time-in.

Source: Seattle Times, United States