Brief timeouts for discipline can be as effective as long ones


Q. My husband and I read your column on spanking. While we don't feel comfortable with the idea of spanking, we feel we need alternatives to timeouts, which is our current form of discipline.

We have two sons: Fletcher, 3:, and Nicky, 2. Fletcher is very bright but is language-delayed and is in a program for language delay that seems to be helping him.

Our principle method of discipline is timeouts in conjunction with frequent praise for desirable behavior. The timeouts do not seem to be working for Fletcher. He will often come out of the timeout and immediately repeat the offense for which he had been disciplined.

What alternative methods should we use? We've considered denying him a future privilege as a consequence for his misbehavior, but we are concerned he may not understand the connection between being denied a treat and his earlier misbehavior. We have also considered increasing the time of his timeouts, which is currently about 5 minutes.

We would welcome other ideas.

A. The best thing you can do is hold your son or isolate him briefly to stop the bad behavior. Follow that quickly with a hug and explain to him that "Every time you do this, I will have to stop you -- until you can learn to stop yourself."

I have never seen long timeouts help more than short ones.

Fletcher may sense that you feel he is a "vulnerable child" because of the language delay and that you aren't completely certain about how to discipline him. When you are, he'll know it.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Dr. Brazelton regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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