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When Should Time-Out Be Used?

Boy yelling

When your child misbehaves, you can use a consequence of your choice. For toddlers and preschoolers, it is a good idea to try distraction and redirection first. If that doesn’t work, you can consider other discipline strategies, like removing an activity or toy your child likes.

There are 4 times when time-out may be a good choice.

  1. Your child does something dangerous, like running in the street.
    • If your child does something dangerous, like running in the street or running away from you in a store, time-out may be a good consequence. A time-out in this situation gives your child a clear understanding that these behaviors are never okay.
  1. Your child does something harmful, like hurting another child.
    • If your child does something harmful, like biting or fighting with another child, time-out may be a good consequence. A time-out can help your child see that hurting others is never okay.
  1. Your child breaks a family rule.
    • Time-out is usually the consequence for when family rules are not followed. Because children know it is the consequence, a time-out warning is not used. If you have a family rule that there is no yelling in the house, your child should go to time-out if he starts screaming. Remember that family rules are for those misbehaviors that are never okay. Make sure your child knows the family rules and understands that breaking the rules will mean a time-out.
  1. Your child does not follow your direction after a warning.
    • Your child is more likely to follow your directions if she gets praise for following directions or consequences for not following the direction. A time-out warning can help your child do as you directed. If your child does not follow your directions after one warning, time-out may be a good consequence. The time-out warning is described below. Make sure your warning lets your child know that you mean what you say. Only give the warning when you are prepared to follow through with time-out. If you do not want to use time-out, do not threaten it and use another discipline strategy.
       
    • The Time-Out Warning
    • When your child doesn’t follow your directions give a time-out warning. The time-out warning needs to be stated clearly, simply, and as a statement (not as a question). State this warning in a neutral tone and follow through with the time-out every time if your child does not do as you directed.
    • In the examples below, a parent tells her daughter to pick up her toys. Look at when the parent decides to use a time-out warning based on her daughter’s response.
      • Example 1: “It’s almost time for dinner. Please put your toys away.” (Parent pauses for a few seconds and child begins to comply.) After she has finished picking up her toys, the parent says to her daughter, “Thanks for listening and putting your toys away.”
         
      • Example 2: “It’s almost time for dinner. Please put your toys away.” (Parent pauses for a few seconds and child continues to play.) The parent says to her daughter, “If you don’t put away your toys, you will have to go to time-out.” (This is the time-out warning.) The parent pauses for a few more seconds to allow the child time to follow directions. The child begins to comply. After the child has finished picking up her toys, the parent says, “Thanks for listening and putting your toys away.”
         
      • Example 3: “It’s almost time for dinner. Please put your toys away.” (The parent pauses for a few seconds and the child continues to play.) The parent says to her daughter, “If you don’t put away your toys, you will have to go to time-out.” (This is the time-out warning.) The parent pauses for a few more seconds to allow the child time to follow directions. The child continues playing. The parent says to her daughter, “You did not pick up your toys so you have to go to time-out.” The parent takes her daughter to the time-out chair and says, “Stay here until I tell you to get up.”
         
      • Remember – Only give the time-out warning one time. After time-out, the child needs to do what you directed. If she refuses again, she goes back to time-out. The time-out process can go on for a while the first couple of times you use it. Your child will eventually learn that you mean what you say and the time-outs will get easier.

 

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