Ask Dr. Phelan: Aggressive in Timeout
Today we have a question from Erin who has her hands full.
Q: What should I do with a child who gets aggressive when it’s time for a timeout?
She writes, “I have a four-year-old who gets very aggressive when he gets to a three-count and needs a timeout. He does not go willingly to his room for the timeout, and he gets angry, scratches, hits, and pulls my hair when I attempt to escort him to timeout. If I do get him to his room, he'll kick the door for the duration of his timeout. We have taken to using a booster chair and buckling him in to contain him for his timeout, and even then he will spit on the floor and scream. I often have scratches on my arms from wrangling him into the chair. Do you have any suggestions on how to manage this behavior differently when we are administering a timeout?”
The first thing is, when you say, “That's three,” and it's time for a timeout, you stop talking and you start moving toward him. If he doesn't go to the timeout, you can escort him, and that can include carrying him and putting him into the room for the timeout.
The other thing is that when a child is four years old or over, that timeout doesn't start until they're done tantruming. You don't necessarily have to put him into the chair. You could just leave him in the room and make sure there's nothing valuable and nothing dangerous that he can hurt himself with.
If he has a history of separation anxiety, you might want to do a gate instead of using the door, but for four-year-olds and above, their timeout starts when they are done That means if he tantrums for an hour, his four minute timeout starts in an hour.
The other thing you want to be very careful with is not talking too much to him. Too much talking and too much emotion will definitely ruin the program. What you want to be is calm and decisive.