Attention from parents is very rewarding for children. Attention can be both positive and negative. Positive attention is used to show your child she has done something you like. Positive attention includes things like praise, hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and high-fives. Negative attention lets your child know you do not like what she has done. Negative attention includes things like scolding, correcting, and yelling.
You can improve your child’s behavior when you give positive attention to behaviors you like and when you take away all attention for behavior you don’t like. When toddlers and preschoolers misbehave, ignoring or removing fun things works best. Time-out is also a good option because it helps children understand they will not get attention for misbehaving. There are three instances when time-out works well, although other discipline strategies might work well in these situations too.
Time-out works well when:
- Your child does something dangerous or harmful, like hurting others.
- Your child does not follow your direction and you have given a warning.
- Your child breaks a family rule.
Choose the Right Time-Out Location:
- Away from toys, people, windows, TVs, radios, and anything else your child likes.
- Where no breakable things are close.
- Often at the end of a hallway. The end of a hallway is usually away from people and things your child likes. The bedroom may work for time-out if you cannot get your child to stay in the time-out space. If the bedroom is used, remove all of the things your child might enjoy.
- Use a sturdy adult-sized chair, like a wooden kitchen chair. Avoid chairs that rock, chairs that are very soft, or chairs with pictures and graphics.
- If you don’t use a chair, you can use a blanket, cloth napkin, small mat, or designated space on the floor.
Five Steps for Time-Out
- Check the behavior. Identify the misbehavior and give a warning if needed.
- Tell them why. Tell the child he is going to time-out and tell him why.
- Have child sit in time-out. Parents may need to lead or carry the child to time-out.
- End time-out. Time-out usually lasts between 2 and 5 minutes for toddlers and preschoolers. Use 1 minute for every year of the child’s age.
- Praise the next good thing your child does. Continue being positive when time-out is over.
Keep in mind:
- Before using time-out, you should explain it or show your child in a way he can understand.
- Time-out should immediately follow the misbehavior.
- When your child is in time-out, try to do what you normally do, but stay close enough to know if your child is doing anything dangerous.
- 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.
- Page last reviewed: October 2, 2017
- Page last updated: May 17, 2014
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