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Extreme Behavior Intervention Methods

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

In the opinion of the authors, time-out and holding or restraining a child are considered to be crisis intervention methods for responding to extreme behavior; thus they are not included in the description of positive guidance techniques suggested for frequent use.

Many programs have banned the use of time-out, because it tends to be misused and over-used. Opposition to the use of time-out is evident in the following quotes. "Opponents argue that time-out damages self-esteem by punishing, embarrassing and humiliating the child in front of his peers. In effect it says, 'I don't want you here.' Techniques that preserve self-esteem are much more effective in the long run" (Kaiser & Rasminsky, 1999). "When used as a discipline, the time-out is one of a group of techniques—including name-on-the-board, an assigned yellow or red "light," and the disciplinary referral slip-that still rely on blame and shame to bring a child's behavior 'back into line.' This is the modern equivalent of the dunce stool" (Gartrell, 2001, p. 9).

Time Out from Reinforcement

Time-out means time away from rewarding events, including attention from adults and peers or use of materials. Time-out removes the child from the setting t hat has reinforced the child's negative behavior and provides out-of-control children with a cooling-off period during which they can regain their composure away from the group. Following an inappropriate behavior that is not safe or hurtful to people or things, the child is removed from the social reinforcers that come from being with others. Time-out should be used only when a child has lost control, cannot respond to adult directions or efforts to comfort, is unable to reason or choose a more appropriate action, or continues to repeat very negative behaviors such as hurting another person or destructive behaviors.

There are several distinct disadvantages to using time-out as the primary discipline strategy in the classroom. Time-out may teach a child what "not to do," but it does not teach more adaptive strategies to use in the future. Opportunities for learning through social interactions are lost during the period of isolation (Schreiber, 1999; Stephens, 1992). Time-out may actually worsen the problem if during the process the child "forces the caregiver to spend several minutes getting her into time-out, she gets the spotlight-which may be exactly what she wants" (Kaiser & Rasminsky, 1999).

Time-out should not be used for every infraction of classroom rules, as a threat ("One more face like that and you go to time-out, young lady."), or simply to provide relief to the adult (Kostelnik, Whiren, Soderman, Stein, & Gregory, 2002). Time-out is only effective as part of a behavior guidance plan that includes the simultaneous use of strategies to teach and encourage desirable behavior.

  • Designate a non-frightening time-out area away from activity but within view of the teacher. It needs to be a quiet, out-of-the-way area where children will feel safe. Note: This must not be the Cozy Corner. (Some teachers have the child sit on the floor where the misbehavior occurred rather than designating a particular place.)
  • Adults should apply time-out as a consequence in a matter-of-fact way, without reprimands or anger.
  • When a child misbehaves, calmly insist that the child take a time-out while making clear the reason for removing the child.

    "You have a time-out for hitting. I'll tell you when you can get up from the chair."

    "You need to sit over here for a little while to calm down. You hurt Dominic when you threw that block. You are very angry. When you are quiet, we will talk."

  • The adult remains nearby but does not speak to the child.
  • If the child resists going to the time-out area, gently guide her by the hand, guide from under the arms, or pick her up. If necessary, have the child sit down on the floor right where she is.
  • Keep the time-out short. A good rule of thumb is one minute of time-out per year of age of the child: a 3-year-old for 3 minutes, a 5-year old for 5 minutes. Using a timer to signal the end of a time-out period helps preschoolers recognize that the time-out will have a definite end (Ucci, 1998). Time-out is not appropriately used as a means for indefinitely removing a "problem child." Time-out is a time for cooling off and ends when the child calms down or after the short designated time. However, the child may not leave time-out at the end of the 3–4 minute period if she is still out of control.
  • Praise the child who participates in a time-out as planned. Give the child the option of discussing the incident leading to the time-out.
  • "You are calm and quiet now. When you are ready you may return to the group. Do you want to talk about why you were so angry and threw the block?"
  • After the child leaves time-out, allow the child to return to the group without lecturing or attempting to obtain promises to "be good" in the future. Assist the child to become engaged in another activity and watch for appropriate, positive behavior to notice and reinforce.

Holding an Out-of-Control Child (Restraint)

Occasionally a child may lose control so completely that she has to be physically restrained and removed from the scene to prevent her from hurting herself or others. Physical restraint and removal from the scene should not be viewed as punishment, but as a means of saying, "You can't do that." An adult should hold the child with just sufficient strength to protect the child or other children and help restore calm. With the child facing away from you, wrap one arm around the child's arms and your legs around the child's legs to prevent the child from hurting you or herself. Cup one hand behind the child's head to protect yourself from a possible head butt to your chest or chin. Before you begin this action, try to notify another adult (in the room or in the office) that you will be forcibly holding this child. This second adult can provide back-up protection to you and the other children as well as provide a witness to your action being carried out appropriately.

  • Adults provide the control in a calm, non-punitive manner, using a soothing voice.
  • "Carey, I'm going to hold you close so you won't hurt yourself or anyone else. I will let you go when you are calm and ready to talk."
  • Record what you have done, including circumstances prior to the holding action, how you performed the action, and what followed.
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