Handling Time-Out Challenges
Time-out is hard at first, and you may need to practice the steps for using time-out with your child before you feel totally comfortable. Practicing with your child also lets your child know what to expect. You may want to talk to your child about how you will respond if she does any of the things below during time-out.
It’s too late. At this point, you have already given a time-out warning so you need to follow through. If you don’t, your child will learn she only needs to agree to follow your directions if you decide to take her to time-out.
When you first start using time-out, your child may scream or cry. This behavior is normal and she’ll likely stop this after several time-outs. Your child needs to be quiet for at least the last 5 seconds of time-out. It does not matter if she screams the rest of the time. You’ll just ignore the screaming.
If your child is not quiet during the last 5 seconds of time-out, wait until she has been quiet for at least 5 seconds before allowing her to get out of time-out. You don’t want her to think she’s getting out of time-out because she has been crying or screaming.
If you have a child who screams in time-out, you may not be able to catch her being quiet for 5 seconds, but she will likely stop screaming for a couple of seconds. When you catch her being quiet for a few seconds, you can say, “Now that you’re sitting quietly in time-out, you can get out.” This lets her know that she’s getting out of time-out for sitting quietly.
Your child is trying to get out of time-out. You should still make your child go. Avoid providing your child with a lot of attention to get her to time-out. Walk with her to time-out and try not to make eye contact or talk to her.
If you can’t get her to walk with you, you can use strategies like the barrel carry that will keep you and your child from getting hurt. When using the barrel carry, you wrap your arms around your child (under the child’s armpits and across the chest) with your child facing away from you. Be careful if you decide to carry your upset child to time-out. She may head butt you or kick you in her attempts to get away. Do not drag or pull a child to time-out because someone could get hurt.
Parents vary in how they decide if a child is “up.” Sometimes when parents first start using time-out, they are ok as long as the child is in the time-out area. Other parents want the child’s bottom to be on the chair/spot. If your child knows what you expect and still leaves the time-out space, you can tell him that his time is starting over.
If your child continues to leave the chair, you have several options. You can place him in a safe, well-lit room or you can return him to the chair and tell him that he is going to lose a privilege. For example, you might say in a calm voice, “If you get up again, you will not be able to ride your bike the rest of the day.” Remember to follow through with all consequences you promise. Remember, consequences that occur right away work best for young children. Sometimes parents have to stand by the time-out space to get the child to sit. Try to limit your interactions with your child and do not talk to him or give him attention.
If you are consistent in putting your child back in the time-out space and limit the attention you provide to your child during the process, you will notice that time-outs get easier over time.
Take it away. Remember that time-out is a time away from all things that may be fun or entertaining for your child. No toys are allowed in time-out.
Remember that you should ignore all of the things your child says while in time-out. If your child uses the bathroom in the time-out chair/spot, it can be cleaned up easily. 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 but limit what you say or do. 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.
If you are using a fabric chair for time-out or a blanket for time-outs away from home, you can take your child to the bathroom but limit what you say or do. 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/spot.
What if my child scoots or rocks the time-out chair, stands on the time-out chair, or does something to hurt himself while he is in time-out?
Dangerous or harmful behaviors cannot be ignored. Do the best you can to stop the behavior without providing any attention. For example, if your child is standing on the chair, sit him down, but do not say anything or make eye contact while you are sitting him down. If your child scoots or rocks the chair, you may want to stand behind the chair so that your child cannot move it. Make sure you are not saying or doing anything to give your child attention.
If you are using time-out away from home and your child throws the mat, you can ignore it since it is not dangerous. You might want to consider just having your child sit on the floor.
Time-outs can be given anywhere (the grocery store, the car), but it still needs to be a time-out from anything your child may find fun and entertaining.
In public places, your child might face a wall or something boring. You can also have a small blanket, mat, or carpet square that you can use for time-outs in public. Your child should be quiet, and no one should be talking to your child or giving him attention.
If your child is not cooperating with time-out in a public place, you may take her to a place that is not surrounded by people. For example, you could take your child to a bathroom stall if she will not behave in the store or you can decide to go home.