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Taking Time Out to Learn about Time-Out

time-out​Consequences, both positive and negative, are the keys to teaching children important skills and appropriate behaviors and helping them learn how to manage their own behavior. For toddlers and younger children, Time-Out is a great parenting tool to address and reduce problem behaviors.

Here are some questions parents frequently ask about how to use Time-Out as an effective consequence:

  • If I've never used Time-Out with my child, how do I get started?
    The best way to get started is to practice Time-Out with your child before you use it in response to actual misbehavior. By practicing, you show your child exactly what you expect him or her to do when a Time-Out is necessary and make it more likely that your child will respond by learning from this consequence. So explain to your child what Time-Out is and what it will be used for, and then walk through the process several times: 1) Briefly tell your child to go to Time-Out and include the reason for it; 2) Have your child sit in the Time-Out location for a few minutes; and 3) Tell your child the Time-Out is over and that he or she can leave the location. You can also briefly explain that you may work together on learning a new behavior to replace the misbehavior that earned the Time-Out, and that this will happen after the Time-Out is over.
  • What behaviors call for a Time-Out?
    A good rule to follow is to use Time-Out as a consequence for any behavior that tempts you to raise your voice. These behaviors might include physical aggression, not following a parent's instruction and major rule violations (e.g., running in the house, jumping on furniture).
  • Where is a good location for Time-Out?
    Time-Out involves having your child sit in a “boring" place for a brief period of time. The best location is one that has few distractions and limits the child's access to social contact with others and activities he or she likes. Avoid sending your child to his or her room for a Time-Out; there are too many toys and fun things to do there. The best place for a Time-Out location is an adult-size chair, a quiet corner or a step where you can see and hear your child and make sure he or she is sitting quietly and isn't playing with toys or others.
  • How do I begin a Time-Out and what do I do if my child refuses to go?
    To send your child to Time-Out, give a brief instruction that includes the reason for the Time-Out. For example, say “Jimmy, go to Time-Out now for not picking up your toys like I asked," or “Rebecca, go to Time-Out now for hitting your brother." If your child doesn't follow your instruction, you can gently but physically guide him or her to the Time-Out location. This lets your child know you are serious and will follow through to make sure he or she goes to Time-Out and completes it.
  • What do I do or say to my child during Time-Out?
    Time-Out means completely removing the child from your attention and other stuff he or she likes. If you give your child attention or continually talk while he or she is supposed to be in Time-Out, the consequence won't work. Therefore, the cardinal rule is that any response you make to your child is nonverbal once a Time-Out begins. In other words, until you tell your child the Time-Out is over, say nothing.
  • How long should a Time-Out last?
    The Time-Out should start only when your child is calm and quiet. A good rule is for the Time-Out to last one minute for each year of the child's age. So, a 4-year-old should spend four minutes in Time-Out. Your child should not be able to leave the Time-Out until you give him or her permission to do so.
  • What should I do once the Time-Out is over?
    Messages about discipline should be very brief, so don't lecture or revisit the event that led to the Time-Out. However, you should spend some time teaching your child appropriate behaviors that can replace the misbehavior that earned the Time-Out. As part of your teaching, give your child multiple opportunities to practice those appropriate behaviors. The easiest way to practice is to give a few simple instructions and praise your child for following them.
  • What is Time-In?
    Time-In is the opposite of Time-Out, and it's what makes Time-Out work. Time-In is the “good stuff," the things your child enjoys, like spending time with you, reading books, playing with toys or helping you with a chore. When you send your child to Time-Out, it takes him or her away from those fun things and, over time, teaches him or her that misbehavior leads to missing out on enjoyable activities. This realization (and your continued teaching and use of praise for positive behavior) eventually should reduce your child's inappropriate behaviors.

Additional Resources 

  • Help! There's a Toddler in the House! by Thomas M. Reimers, Ph.D.
  • I Brake for Meltdowns: How to Handle The Most Exasperating Behavior Of Your 2- To 5-Year-Old by Michelle Nicholasen and Barbara O'Neal
  • Parenting the Strong-Willed Child: The Clinically Proven Five-Week Program for Parents of Two- to Six-Year-Olds by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long

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Kid Tips;Discipline



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