Brecksville ABA therapists

Brecksville ABA Therapists Offer “Time-Out” Alternatives

As Brecksville ABA therapists, our focus is on the study of behavior. When it comes to children with autism and other conditions, the interest is not only on what the challenging behavior is, but what the motivation – or function – is and how caregivers may be unintentionally reinforcing it. This brings us to the ever-popular approach of time-out.

You’re almost certainly familiar with the “time-out” strategy because it’s very popular. As explained by the CDC, timeout is when a child is removed from where the “misbehavior” occurred – deprived of fun, attention, or some other desired activity. Time-out is used for things like breaking a rule or not following a direction after a warning. It’s effective for lots of neurotypical kids because time-out is boring, and kids don’t usually like to be bored.

However, timeout isn’t effective for addressing all behaviors, and it’s may not be effective for every child. For children with autism spectrum disorder or developmental delay or some other disability, time-out can provide a safe space for them to work on calming themselves. However, it’s not going to be effective if:

  • The child is aggressive or using self-injuring behavior.
  • The child’s goal is to avoid the activity or interaction with others.

In both of these cases, time-out might inadvertently reinforce the challenging behavior. In the case of self-injurious behavior, putting them in a space alone isn’t likely to stop it. If the child’s goal is to avoid interaction or a non-preferred activity, time-out actually gives them what they want. In effect, adults may be inadvertently giving them a reason to engage in challenging behaviors to achieve the goal of getting in time-out.

Our Brecksville ABA therapists work to study the “ABCs of behavior” – the antecedent, behavior, and consequence – to gain insight into why the child is engaging in that behavior. This tells us the function of it. We then work to formulate alternative approaches to the antecedent and consequence to help extinct that behavior.

Positive reinforcement is ideal wherever possible. Timeout isn’t necessarily positive or negative, depending on how it’s used, but it may not be effective depending on the child’s motivation for engaging in the behavior. That’s why we offer some of the following alternatives to time-out. These include:

  • Do-Over. Sometimes, a child might behave impulsively if they’re frustrated or excited, despite full well knowing the rules. Offering a “do-over” lets children know the behavior wasn’t acceptable, while also not allowing them to get out of an activity just because it’s non-preferred. It also provides a chance for them to practice what you do expect – and earn praise for it. Spell out exactly what went wrong in the simplest terms and ask them if they can try to do it again. This lets your child know the behavior wasn’t “expected” and gives them a chance to get it right.
  • Redirection. This is helpful especially for younger kids and those who have a tough time remembering the rules and exercise self-control. With redirection, you remove the toy/object or move the child to a different area altogether until the behavior has improved. You can substitute a different activity or toy, and tell them, “It seems like xyz is making you frustrated. Let’s play with this instead.” When they begin once again using expected behaviors, be sure to pile on the praise.
  • Amends. Lots of times, kids are forced to “say sorry” after they do something that hurts another person. Apologies can be meaningful and help repair relationship fissures. However, if they’re forced on a child for bad behavior, they may not be so meaningful. Instead, we can encourage kids to make amends. That involves apologizing by saying “I’m sorry because….” and also, “This is wrong because…” followed by, “Next time I will…” and then finally, “Will you forgive me?” This is really only going to be effective for kids who are older and have a bit more language skills, but it can work well in those cases – perhaps especially if it’s written out. It may be helpful to role play a few times before approaching the person to whom the amends is being made.
  • Give your child choices. Consider presenting your child with a warning that contains two choices. Use clear, succinct language and make sure they know the choice is theirs. “You are not allowed to keep this toy all to yourself. Your two choices are: Take turns with your friend or play in another room.” This gives them power and autonomy in deciding what kind of expected behavior they want to engage in.
  • Take a break. This is sort of like time-out, except that you and your child take a break together while they are calming down. You discuss the size of the problem, the size of their reaction, and how your child is feeling about their choices. A cool-down period can help kids work through calm emotions – and taking a break together gives you a chance to talk to them about the next step. That could be a do-over. It could be an amends. Note: Taking a break together is not going to be effective if the goal of the child’s behavior is to gain attention. You’ll only end up reinforcing the undesired behavior.

If you aren’t sure what method is going to be most effective for your child, our ABA therapy team can help you work through those questions and concerns, and develop effective responses to challenging behaviors.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Alternatives to and Effective Use of Time Out, Watson Institute

More Blog Entries:

Broadview Heights ABA Therapy Team Breaks Down the Function of Behavior, Jan. 14, 2022, Brecksville ABA Therapists Blog