Whew. Toddlerhood is starting to show it’s (sometimes ugly) face around our house. Miss K seems to be more toddler-like every day, which is causing me to remind myself of some of the behavior management techniques I haven’t used since I worked in preschool. The one I’m using the most these days is called a Sit & Watch. When I was in college at the University of Kansas we used this in my practicum. They would swear up and down that this is NOT a time out. But, that’s the fastest way to describe it to you is a mini-time out. I love them. They’re fast, they’re effective, and you don’t have to move from the downstairs playroom to the timeout chair that’s in your kitchen because someone is being naughty.
Here’s how it works. When Miss K does something on our no-no list, and she has been redirected (Miss K, play with your toys instead of Bella’s bowls.) once already, I immediately sit her down right there on the spot, making sure she isn’t within reach of any fun stuff. She has to sit there for 1 minute (no matter her age). When she’s sat for a minute, I just pick her up and put her back on her way.
The why behind this method? The most important part is that they’re not getting attention for undesired behaviors. It’s something they know they shouldn’t be doing, they’ve been told it’s not appropriate before, but they’re continuing to do it. So, this sends a message to stop without saying a word. Problem behaviors can become even more of an issue when a kiddo gets attention for a bad behavior, because sometimes even negative attention (a punishment, or getting yelled at) can be enough to reinforce a behavior.
There are some things to be careful of when you use a sit and watch:
- Be consistant. If you use a sit and watch once for hitting the dog, you need to use it EVERY time they hit the dog from then on.
- Try to redirect once, for non-violent behaviors. Kids have to learn what they are supposed to be doing. If we never tell them what’s okay, how are they supposed to know? Tell them a good alternative to what they’re doing.
- Violent behaviors don’t get a reminder. Hitting, biting, scratching, throwing things, or any other violent behaviors don’t deserve a redirection. It’s an immediate sit and watch.
- Be persistant. I cannot express how important it is to stick with this. If you don’t, you’re telling them you’re not going to follow through. If you try to get them to sit still in one spot for 30 seconds and then decide, “Miss K. is never going to sit here for a full minute, I give up!” you’ve just reinforced that a fit can get them out of the sit and watch. So, next time they’ll fight harder and longer to try to get you to give up.
- Be prepared when you first start to put up a fight. They’re not going to sit there and not fight what you’re doing the first few times (and later on when they feel like testing you to see if you’re still going to follow through). This explosion of behavior is called an extinction burst. They’re going to act out when you try to correct the behavior. But, I urge you, stick with it these first few difficult times. It’s always easier to put in the work on the front end, then to let this go on and on. The longer you wait to correct a behavior, the harder it is to correct. And, as I said before, if you give up half way through a fight, they’ll learn the more the fight the more likely you are to give up. If you need to, gently hold little one there until their time is up. However, do not let them up if they’re still fighting! Wait until they’re sitting calmly, even if at first you still have to have your hands on them for them to be sitting calmly in one place. They don’t need to be sitting calmly for a long time either, if they do it for a second, let them up. Then, progressively increase the amount of time they have to be sitting calmly before they can get up to one minute. Take it in baby steps and everyone’s life will be easier!
- It’s going to be frustrating! But, then when it works, it’s awesome! I’ll be honest, teaching “time out” of any sort is frustrating at first. Kids don’t like it! But, remember, it’s easier now than later! It still takes me several minutes to get Miss K to sit, stay away from what she was doing, and move on. But, she eventually does it and I know I’m setting us up for success later!
- Sit and watches are not for noncompliance. If you have asked your child to do something and they’re not doing it, don’t use a sit and watch. I’ll cover the technique for noncompliance soon (called three step prompting), but for now know that if you use a sit and watch for noncompliance your child can learn that if they do something violent or hurtful they can get out of having to do what you’ve asked them to do. For example, you ask your kiddo to put their dish in the sink. They don’t want to do it, so they bop sister in the head so they don’t have to put their dish in the sink. But, I’ll cover what to do in that case later.
Correcting behaviors is never an easy task. If it was, all the children in the world would be walking around like perfect little angels. The biggest part of having a kiddo who listens and behaves isn’t about the kid: it’s about the parent and the effort the parent is willing to put in. What questions do you have about sit and watches? Do you feel like it could be an effective “time out” for your family?