Answers from Experts
Q: I’ve tried time-out several times before with both of my children (ages 7 and 3). It has never worked. My children never stay in the time-out chair. I end up spending 10 minutes arguing with them about it. That’s longer than the time-out should’ve been! Is there a “trick” to get time-out to work or are my children just time-out proof?
A: Many parents try time-out with their children and feel like it does not work. But you may have more success with a few changes to the way you’re doing time-outs. The first thing to keep in mind is that time-out is time away from everything your child finds rewarding, including your attention. When you argue with your children during time-out, you are giving them attention. Even though it is negative attention, it is still attention. And, it sounds like the arguing is working to get them out of time-out.
When you use time-out with your children, try to do it like a robot. Don’t react to anything. Limit your eye contact with your children, and try not to touch or talk to them. Getting your children to stay in the time-out chair can be tough. Try to have a plan before time-out begins, and think about how you will handle all of the things that can happen. It is helpful to practice time-out with your children and let them know how you will handle misbehaviors in time-out. If your child gets up from the time-out chair, pick them up and put them back in the chair without talking. Or you might say to the child in a calm voice, “Stay in the chair until I tell you to get up.” If your child just won’t stay in the chair, you can use a time-out room. Make sure this is a room with lights and doesn’t have anything distracting or fun for the child in it. It should also be safe for the child. Some parents take fun items, like toys and electronics, out of the child’s bedroom and use it as the backup for time-out. Other parents find that the laundry room works well if all items that could be harmful are removed. If you use a separate room, stay close so you can make sure your child is not doing anything harmful or fun. If you keep doing the same thing each time your child goes to time-out, your child will learn to do time-outs the right way. Try to stay as calm as possible during time-out. With practice, you can learn to make time-out work for your family. Click here for more information on time-out.
Q: It seems like there are lots of different ways to do time-out. I’d like to give time-out a try, but I don’t like the idea of closing my child in a room. What’s the best place to use as a time-out spot?
A: Time-out is a time when children are removed from all things that are fun and interesting to them. The time-out should be as boring as possible for the child. Pick a location that has good light and space to move around. Closets are not a good location for a time-out space because they aren’t big enough and they don’t have good lighting. A time-out spot in a chair or corner will be easiest for you to watch. Try using a time-out chair, and if that doesn’t work use the child’s bedroom or another room that has had fun items removed. The important thing is to choose the location that works best for you and your child. Just remember, a time-out place is a safe space for your child that doesn’t have anything fun or interesting. Click here for more information on time-out.
Q: I have multiple children who will not leave each other alone while they’re in time-out. I end up having to try to put both children in time-out, which still doesn’t work. How can I get my children to leave each other alone while they’re in time-out without sending everyone to their rooms?
A: Siblings often provide a lot of attention when their brother or sister is in time-out. Try to get the child that is not in time-out busy with something else. That will keep them from giving attention to the child in time out. This can also show the child in time-out that he is missing out on fun when he misbehaves and show how to get positive attention from you for good behaviors. You may also want to let the child not in time-out know that if she does not follow your directions to leave her brother/sister alone, she will lose activities or get a time-out herself.
If two children are in time-out at the same time, they need to be placed so that they can’t talk to each other or give each other attention. This means that their chairs need to be far enough apart that they can’t touch or look at each other. If the children get up or turn around to look at each other, they need to be put back in the chair facing forward. If your children have their own rooms, you could also use their bedrooms for time-out if you remove all the items they like. If the children share the same room, it will work better to choose different places for time-out. Click here for more information on time-out.
Q: My 2-year-old is starting to misbehave more. She throws tantrums, refuses to eat dinner, and sometimes tries to hit me. I’d like to try time-out as a method of discipline, but I worry that she is too young to be put in time-out. Is there an age range and time limit for time-out?
A: Time-out is not right for children under 2-years-old. Even for some 2-year-olds, time-out may not be the best choice. For time-out to work, your child needs to be able to understand why she got a time-out. Ignoring or distracting your child may work better until she is old enough to understand what is happening and why. When time-out is right for your child, 1 minute of time-out for every year of age works best for most children. For example, for a 3-year-old, the time-out would be 3 minutes. Click here for more information on time-out.
Q: My 4-year-old son will find any away possible to get out of time-out. If I tell him he is going to time-out because he didn’t put his toys away like I asked, he’ll start putting the toys away. If he’s just been put in the time-out chair, he’ll tell me he needs to go to the bathroom. I feel like I’m being mean so sometimes I give in and let him out of time-out. Is there a way to stop my son from acting this way?
A: These are all things children do to get out of time-out. If you have told your child he is going to time-out, nothing he says or does should get him out of time-out, even if he does what you asked at the last minute. Once your child is in time-out, ignore everything he says or does unless he is at risk of being hurt. Children will often say they have to go to the bathroom to get out of time-out. The best idea is to ignore this. Your child may use the bathroom on himself every time he’s in time-out if he knows it will get him out of time-out sooner. If your child is just being potty trained, you can take him to the bathroom. Your eye, verbal, and physical contact should be limited to only what is needed to help him with the bathroom. After using the bathroom, take him right back to the time-out chair.
Do time-out the same way every time, and your son will learn that he can’t get out of time-out. Read about other things children do to get out of time-out here.
- Page last reviewed: May 17, 2014
- Page last updated: May 17, 2014
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