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Time-in Before Time-out: Tools for Kids and Parents to Use in Interpersonal Situations

By Lisa Kosan

Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., director of the Yale Child Study Center and an expert on children’s behavior problems, offers a five-step exercise for children to use in a range of interpersonal situations. They need to:

1. Ask, “What am I supposed to do?”

2. Say, “I need to look at all my possibilities.”

3. Say, “I had better concentrate and focus in.”

4. Say, “I need to make a choice.”

5. Say, “I did a good job” or “Oh, I made a mistake.”

Evaluating their choices, the alternatives and consequences will lead to better problem-solving skills and behavior, Kazdin says.

The Four Ps

For his part, Christophersen has come up with an approach for parents that he calls the “Four Ps”:

Pretend (model the behavior for your child).

Practice the skills frequently (just like you would help your child prepare for a spelling test).

Prompt your child to use the skills.

Praise them when they do.

If you stick to these, you’ll rarely have to resort to a fifth “P” for punishment, according to Edward Christophersen, Ph.D., a professor of pediatrics at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.



Punishment is not a critical part of raising children, he adds. There’s no research to support the effectiveness of being punitive with your kids, or anyone else. (When, he asks, was the last time you heard of an adult being punished for leaving clothes on the bathroom floor or refusing to share the last scoop of coffee ice cream?)

“We don’t force other people to do things, do we?” Christophersen asks. “We don’t like to be forced ourselves.”

Try a more thoughtful approach the next time your child needs to come inside for dinner. Instead of shouting repeatedly out the door, go outside, put your arm around your daughter, and tell her it’s time to eat. Acknowledge the good time she’s had playing with her friend and that you bet they’ll have a great time again tomorrow. Say goodnight to her friend and walk to the house, hand-in-hand, chatting about dinner.

“It might take more energy than yelling from the house, but it’s more likely she’ll come willingly,” Christophersen says. “And won’t you both feel better? Isn’t that the point?”

The Series:

Part – 'Time In" Before 'Time Out'

Part 2Time Out from Positive Reinforcement?

Part 3Less Talking = More Hands-on Learning

Part 4 - Tools for Kids and Parents to Use in Interpersonal Situations

Part 5 - Help Children Blow Away Anger

Part 6 - Gentle Touching Sends a Loving Message

Further Reading

Parenting That Works: Building Skills That Last a Lifetime, by Edward R. Christophersen and Susan L. Mortweet, American Psychological Association, 2002.

Lisa Kosan, a frequent contributor to United Parenting Publications, is an award-winning writer and the mother of two boys.

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