Steps for Using Time-Out
When children misbehave and parents try to correct them, feelings and emotions can get out of control. A time-out allows the parent and child time to cool down. The steps below can be used for time-out. Remember it is helpful to practice what will happen in a time-out with your child before you need to use it to stop misbehavior.
Five Steps for Time-Out
- Check the behavior and give a warning. Look at whatever misbehavior your child is doing. If your child misbehaves in a way that calls for a time-out (like not following directions), give a time-out warning. Let your child know in a calm voice that he will go to time-out if he keeps misbehaving. For example, if you tell your child to put away his toys and he does not listen, you might say, “If you don’t put away your toys, you are going to time-out.” Wait about 5 seconds. If your child follows directions after the warning, praise him. You could say, “I really like it when you listen and put away your toys just like I asked!” If your child keeps misbehaving, it is time to follow through with a time-out. Always follow through with time-out when you give the warning and your child does not do what you told him to do.
- Tell your child why. Tell your child he is going to time-out and tell him why. Tell your child, “You have to go to time-out because you...” You should say this only once. Say it in a calm but firm voice. When you are telling your child why he is going to time-out:
- Do NOT lecture, scold, or argue.
- Do NOT accept any excuses.
- Do NOT talk to your child while taking him to the time-out chair.
- Ignore shouting, protesting, and promises to be good.
- Have your child sit in time-out. If your child refuses to go to time-out, lead him by the hand or pick him up safely and carry him to the chair. When you get to the time-out space, tell him to sit down. Tell him to stay in the time-out space until you say he can get up. When your child is in time-out:
- Do NOT let anyone talk with him.
- Do NOT let him play with anything.
- Getting children to sit in time-out is sometimes easier said than done. Children often don’t want to sit in time-out. If your child gets out of the time-out space, put him back. Do not talk to your child when putting him back in the time-out space. When you first use time-out, you may have to return your child to time-out several times. If you are consistent in putting your child back in the time-out space each time he gets up and in limiting the attention you provide to your child during the process, you will notice that time-outs get easier over time. This requires a lot of patience and is not easy. Remember that your child is trying to get out of time-out and is doing whatever he can to get out. Sometimes parents have to stand by the time-out space to get the child to sit. This is okay; just limit your interactions with your child. Do not talk to him or give him any attention.
- End time-out. Time-out usually lasts between 2 and 5 minutes for toddlers and preschoolers. A good rule of thumb is to give 1 minute of time-out for every year of the child’s age. This means that a 2-year-old would sit in time-out for 2 minutes, and a 3-year-old would have a 3-minute time-out.
Your child should be quiet before he leaves the time-out space. Listen for about 5 seconds of silence toward the end of time-out. When your child is quiet for 5 seconds at the end of time-out, tell him he can get up. If your child got time-out for breaking a family rule or for hitting or doing something dangerous, you may want to remind your child of the behavior you expect. For example, you can say, “Remember our rule: keep your hands and feet to yourself.”
If the time-out was for not following your direction, repeat the direction. Your child needs to follow your directions, even after time-out. If your child still refuses to do what you have told him to do, he should go back to time-out.
- Praise the next good thing your child does. Focus on the next positive thing your child does and give him an enthusiastic praise! Sometimes giving your child the chance to follow another direction allows you to praise him for doing something well. If your child does not do what you have told him to do, even after the time-out, you should repeat the time-out. It may take several times before your child learns that you mean what you say.
Example of the five steps used in time-out:
Your 3-year-old son is kicking other children. Since this is a family rule, you don’t need to give your child a warning. You tell him, “Remember our rule of no kicking. You have to keep your feet to yourself. Because you didn’t follow the rule, you have to go to time-out.” You send your son to time-out. Your child was quiet the entire time-out, so after 3 minutes, you say, “Time-out is over. Remember our rule of no hitting. Keep your feet to yourself.” You then spend the next few minutes trying to catch him being good so that you can praise him. When you see him playing nicely with a friend, you say, “You are doing a great job sharing your toys!”
What You Can Do While Your Child is in Time-Out
Try to do what you would normally be doing when your child is in time-out, but stay close enough to know if your child is doing anything dangerous or tries to leave the time-out chair/spot. No one should give your child any attention while he is in time-out. Do not look at your child, do not talk to your child, and do not touch your child. Make sure your child’s brothers and sisters are also not giving him attention in time-out.
Putting Two Children in Time-Out
When two children are arguing or fighting, knowing who started it is less important than giving a consequence to both children for misbehaving. If you blame the wrong one, you run the risk of punishing the wrong child. Choosing sides does not allow children the chance to solve their own problems. Putting both children in time-out is better because you do not have to take sides, you do not reward the children with attention for fighting, and both children are equally punished. Make sure to send the children to different time-out spots. Then follow the regular time-out procedure with both children.
Putting a Toy in Time-Out
If your child is mishandling a toy or fighting with another child over the toy, you can consider putting the toy in time-out (and not your child). Putting the toy in time-out can be used if you do not want to put your child in time-out too often. It is a way to teach your child self-control and still decrease misbehaviors without too much time spent in time-out by your child. To do this, just take the toy away and put it in time-out. After the time-out is over, tell your child why the toy was in time-out and then have your child say why the toy was in time-out.
- Page last reviewed: May 19, 2014
- Page last updated: May 19, 2014
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