Dealing With Unruly Children

Q: My seven-year-old son has been acting up lately and it’s been difficult to work with him. He doesn’t always care if he gets punished or has his privileges taken away, and sometimes he doesn’t care about rewards, either. He can get very chutzpadig, and continually fights with his brothers and sisters. I have heard of using “time-out” as a way of working with these problems. How is it different from sending a child to his room?

 A: There is a difference. The concept of using a time-out was created to be structured, controlled and consistent; an objective way to resolve a behavioral infraction. Sending a child to his/her room randomly demonstrates anger rather than control of the situation. “Time-out,” when used consistently, has proven to be very helpful for specific types of problematic behavior. According to one researcher, 50–90 percent of aggressive childhood behavior can be improved with this technique. Whether or not this statistic is accurate, parents need to try and see if this method can be helpful to their child.

Time-out is geared towards managing out-of-control behavior; it is not a solution for a child’s non-compliance with issues such as cleaning his room or doing homework. This method is generally not workable for a child over bar/bas mitzvah (unless the child’s maturity level is limited), and is generally not very effective for a very placid or passive child (as its aim is to minimize destructive and aggressive behavior, which is not the problem of a passive child).

Time-out is designed to give respite to both parent and child when aggressive behavior becomes out of control. The basic steps involved are as follows:

Choose one problematic behavior on which to focus. (Examples: exhibition of extreme chutzpah or excessive fighting with siblings.)

Pick a place for time-out, one that is non-stimulating, without toys.

Explain the process of a time-out to the child involved, and specify that a certain negative behavior will warrant a time-out.

Wait for the behavior to occur. When it does, tell the child to go to the time-out location, or escort the child there if s/he is young.

Use no more than 10 seconds and 10 words to communicate this idea to your child.

It is preferable to use a portable timer placed within hearing distance of your child. Set it to ring after X minutes (with X= the age of the child; e.g., eight minutes for an eight-year-old child). However, if this is not possible, the parent has to be vigilant and aware of the time spent in time-out, to avoid being inconsistent.

Wait for the timer to ring before allowing the child to leave.

As with all behavioral methods, this is not foolproof, and a parent needs to have a contingency plan. If a child does not go into time-out in a timely fashion, s/he can be “fined” for the minutes that pass until s/he enters the time-out room. The punishment then increases by adding more minutes to the original time.

If the child completely ignores the request to go to time-out, or runs out before it is over, s/he can be punished by not being allowed to play outside or play certain games until the time-out is served. A parent can create a privilege in which all siblings participate, and this child will be excluded until s/he completes the time-out.

Since this behavior method is very structured in its approach, it helps calm both parent and child (who may both be quite aggravated in certain situations), and leaves less room for subjective emotional outbursts on the part of both.

All children benefit from this method due to its structure and potential calming effect, but not all children modify their behavior due to time-out. Certain children will improve problematic behaviors more successfully with behavior modification techniques focusing on rewards and behavior charts.

Hatzlachah rabbah on your most worthy endeavor of chinuch habanim.