Many parents express concern that their time-out strategies do not work. However, when implemented appropriately, time-outs can be a useful tool for managing problematic behavior in children. Instead of a time-out being a punishment, it can be viewed as a means to teach children how to “take a break” from a situation in order to self-regulate and calm their bodies and thoughts. Time-outs can be an effective discipline technique when done right.
Try implementing these tips for effective time-outs:
- Give your child a warning for non-physical behaviors (e.g., yelling) that warrant a time-out. Counting to three can be an effective means to teach children that they are displaying inappropriate behaviors which will lead to a time-out if they choose to continue. For physically aggressive behaviors, children should be immediately sent to time-out.
- Location, location, location. Time-out should involve a child being placed in a chair facing a wall, preferably in a room that limits distractions. Parents will often place children in their rooms which can be fun and counterproductive. In the world of time-out, boring is better!
- Do not provide any social attention such as eye-contact or verbal remarks when the child is in time-out.
- But my child will not stay in the time-out chair! At times, parents may need to prompt their children to stay seated. This could involve physically redirecting your child to the time-out chair, or standing in front of their chair similarly to a guard. Remember, do not provide any social attention when your child is in time-out.
- Use a timer. Set a timer somewhere within the child’s view, but not within their reach. A good rule of thumb is to use your child’s age to determine the number of minutes for the timer to be set (5 years would be 5 minutes). However, the time-out period can be brief, as long as the child is calm and not exhibiting any negative behaviors. The key is that children do not need to stay in time-out the entire time. This will teach your child that it is up to them to determine that they are relaxed, ready, and able to reintegrate into their previous setting. If your child continues to display tantrum behaviors after the timer is up, re-set the timer for the same amount of time and tell your child, “Oh, it seems like you are still not ready to leave your time-out chair. We need to set it for another 5 minutes.”
- Once time-out is finished, your child should be instructed to engage in a remediation behavior (e.g., clean up toys previously thrown), or prompted to show some type of pro-social behavior toward the person target of their aggression (e.g., hand shake, a hug, saying “Sorry”).
Extra Food For Thought in using Time-Outs:
- Think of alternative behaviors to teach. Underlying all problem behaviors is a function. If triggers have been identified for your child’s misbehavior, teach them adaptive ways of obtaining what they want.
- Catch them when they are good! Kids love attention, so make every effort to praise them when they behave appropriately. We want your children to learn that you are like a light switch that turns on for good behaviors, but off for bad behaviors.