Why Taking Away Video Games, and Time-Out, Often Does Not Work

Why Time Out Doesn't Work- Parenting Tips

Written by Dr. John Carosso

I decided to re-post this post because, as of late, this issue has repeatedly been broached during my talks with parents. I hope you find this to be helpful.

Taking away video-games (or TV, or a toy…) doesn’t work? Say it ain’t so!

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the tried-and-true discipline method of taking away video-games, a favorite toy, or whatever else, is largely ineffective and, in fact, counter-productive. How can that be, you ask, when taking away a favorite activity is probably the most commonly-used behavior management strategy parents have in their arsenal? Well, here’s the truth the matter.

Taking away privileges often makes the situation worse!

Here is the scenario, a child does not do their chores or back-talks; parent yells and then takes away the video games “for a week!!!”. Child yells back, negotiates, parent may or may not follow-through. If the parent follows through, child pesters incessantly to get the video-games back. If parent removes the games at all, it’s definitely not for an entire week. The next time the child misbehaves (an hour later or the next day…) the parent does not have video-games to use as a punishment (they’re already taken away).

So, in that scenario, the threat of taking away video games (or whatever) results in worse behavior due to the emotion stirred at losing the favored item, the subsequent pestering, and not having the games to use later as a punishment. Does that sound effective?

What about other punishments (such as time-out)?

If taking away privileges is the ‘numero-uno ‘ of punishments, then time-out is a very close second. However, how does that work for you? You put your child on the steps or in a corner; takes 15 minutes of yelling, cajoling, and emotion to get them in time-out in the first place, they fuss once there (yell-out when is it going to be over, get teased by their siblings, seek attention from you…), won’t stay there, and then finally they “complete” time-out after maybe a few minutes of quiet, if that.

Is this a common problem?

I’ve heard 10,000 times (maybe more) “I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work” when suggesting discipline strategies to parents. I don’t blame them; they’re right; these strategies, as they are typically used, don’t work. This is why counseling with a professional who can offer solid suggestions is so important given that implementing punishments the right way is not easy thing.

Lets start first with the most effective ‘punishment’

I’ll start with best ‘punishment’, if used correctly, that a parent has in his or her arsenal. Just to clarify, I think rewards, kudos, the softer-and-closer approach… are far more effective than any punishment, but at some point a parent has to set serious limits, and nothing beats time-out if used properly.

How to make time-out work

The key to time-out is that it’s used without any pestering (just say “1”, “2”, “3”) and absolutely no emotion. There is no arguing, fussing, or carrying-on no matter the child’s reaction; rely on the consequence not your words or your emotion.

Step-by-step

  • The child is directed to time-out (is walked there in a calm manner)
  • Time-out is in their room, not in a corner or on the steps. This way, the child is out of sight and can’t seek attention.
  • The child is informed, ahead of time, that the door will remain open if they remain calm. If they yell, the door will be closed. If the child will not stay in their room, well, there are some good options but that’s beyond the scope of today’s post; email me and we’ll go into that further.

Why time-out in a child’s room is most effective

The nice thing about time-out in the room is that it immediately ends the emotion, gives a chance for everyone to calm and, when it’s over, it’s over and you move on!!! The child can do whatever he or she wants in the room except electronics. You can take away toys and books to make it more aversive if necessary.

Okay, so now I understand how to use time-out, what about loss of privilege?

Loss of privilege can be effective, but there are specific ways to make it work. First, differentiate between immediate loss of privilege that is used until a task is accomplished (premack principle, or “when/then”). In this manner, ‘when’ your child has cleaned his room or done his homework, he can ‘then’ go out to play. The ‘not being able to go out to play’ is the loss of privilege, and is withheld immediately until the unfavored task (chore) is done.

The other form of loss of privilege can be used over a 24 hour period. This way, every day, specific tasks need to be accomplished (homework, chores, respect toward parent…); if the task(s) are accomplished by a specific time each day (say, 8:00PM), then the next day the child earns the privilege (video games, going out to play…); if not, then the next day the privilege is not earned. Each day is a new day and dependent on what happened the day before. In this scenario, it’s vital to make sure the tasks are achievable, and that the child has a fair shot in actually completing the task; otherwise, you’re dooming your child to failure.

There ya go

There is a basic overview of why loss of privilege and time-out often are woefully ineffective, and how to improve your chances of positive outcomes. This post was a bit longer than usual but there is still so much more to say; I could write a book on this subject alone (hmmmm) so feel free to ask any questions at DrCarosso@aol.com. Happy disciplining.

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Dr. John Carosso

I work as a Child Psychologist, and School Psychologist in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania,specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, Behavioral Problems, Autism, Depression, Trauma, and Educational issues. I also provide in-home and in-school wraparound services.