Skip links

Using Time-Out Effectively

Time-out is a well-known discipline technique used to interrupt an unacceptable behavior; it is not intended to punish, but to give children the opportunity to calm down and regain self- control. It can be one of the most successful parenting strategies if carried out correctly. However, overuse of time-out can cause the practice to lose its effectiveness. Parents who have not had great success with time-out may benefit from the tips listed below.

With what age groups can time-out be used? For time-out to be effective the child must be old enough to understand the concepts of “waiting” and “quiet”. This is different for each child but is generally not achieved before the age of two. Although the exact format for time- out may change as a child grows it can be used effectively for all ages-even adults!

What are the benefits of time-out?

  • It is an especially good tool to help children learn self-control.
  • It reinforces the relationship between behavior and consequences.
  • It doesn’t feed into the negative emotions already present. If parents react to a misbehavior or meltdown with screaming and yelling the situation deteriorates rapidly and no learning takes place.
  • It allows the parent time to calm down and think rationally so they can handle the situation wisely.
  • Time-out works best with behaviors such as defiance, temper tantrums, hitting, and destructiveness. It has little benefit for annoying behaviors such as pouting, forgetfulness, and failure to complete routine tasks.

Time-out guidelines:

  • At a calm time before a time-out is needed explain the rules to your child so he knows what to expect. Keep in mind the developmental age of the child and consider carefully if your expectations are beyond his capabilities. Be firm but calm as you tell your child that time-outs will be used to help him remember certain rules to develop self-control.
  • Choose a quiet area with few distractions. The point is to remove the child from stimulation and attention so they can regain composure and think about their misbehavior. There should be no television, toys, or attention from family members during time-out.
  • Use a kitchen timer with a loud ring. The accepted rule for time limits is one minute for each year of a child’s age up to the age of eight when they are capable of sitting for 15 minutes or longer. Tell your child precisely what rule he did not follow and why he must go to the time-out area. “We do not allow hitting; you must go to time-out now. I will set the timer as soon as you are sitting quietly”.
  • If the child gets up, quietly take him back to the time-out area, and restart the timer. If your child refuses to stay it may be necessary to physically carry him back to the time-out area. Try to remain calm! Any intense reactions from you will only feed into the negativity already brewing. You must do this each and every time the child leaves the time-out area. Consistency is the key to the success of time-out!
  • Any additional misbehavior during time-out such as being destructive, playing, or screaming obscenities can be handled by taking away other privileges. Say something like, “Since you are not following the time-out rules, every minute you continue this behavior you will loose 2 minutes of TV, computer, or outside time!” Again, you will have to follow through with what you say or you will loose all credibility and even other discipline techniques will fail.
  • When time is up go to your child and ask him to tell you why he was sent to time-out. The purpose of time-out, or any other form of discipline, is to teach your child acceptable behaviors. It is essential your child understands what the unacceptable behavior is, and also what could have been done differently.

Remember that discipline is less about punishment and more about helping children learn appropriate behavior and developing self-control. A parent’s goal should be to raise responsible, caring, respectful young people who will pass these important values on to the next generation.

Return to top of page