Quick Tips

Six Keys to Using Time-Out

  1. Explain time-out to your child before using it. Tell your child which behaviors will lead to time-out, where time-outs will happen, and how time-out will be used. Practice time-out with your child so she knows how it will work.
  2. Limit time-outs with toddlers and preschoolers. Use time-out if your child does something dangerous or harmful, fails to follow a direction, or breaks a family rule. Use other types of consequences for other problem behaviors.
  3. Follow the 5 steps for time-out each time you use it.
  4. Select a time-out location where your child cannot get attention from anyone. The location should be away from TV, games, toys, or other things your child likes.
  5. Time-out can be used anywhere. You can even use it away from home.
  6. Time-outs last between 2 and 5 minutes for toddlers and preschoolers.

What is Time-Out? When should it be used?

Time-out is when your child is removed from where the misbehavior happened. Your child is away from all things that are fun. She does not get any attention in time-out. She cannot interact with her parents or anyone else.

Time-out is not used for all misbehaviors.  For toddlers and preschoolers, try distraction and redirection first. There are 4 times when time-out may be a good choice:

  • Your child does something dangerous
  • Your child does something 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.

The Time-Out Warning

When your child doesn’t follow your directions give a time-out warning. The time-out warning should 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. See the example below when a parent decides to use a time-out warning.

Example 1: “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.”

Steps for Using Time-Out:

  1. Check the behavior.
  2. Tell them why.
  3. Have child sit in time-out.
  4. End time-out.
  5. Praise the next good thing your child does.

Click here for more information about the Steps for Using Time-out

Time-Out Tips

  • Explain time-out or show it to your child in a way she can understand.
  • Practice time-out with your child when you are both in a good mood.
  • Make sure your child knows what behavior leads to a time-out.
  • Tell your child where time-outs will happen.
  • Use time-out the same way every time.
  • Focus on one misbehavior first.
  • Time-out should happen immediately after the misbehavior.

Click here for more detailed tips for using time-out.

Time-Out Locations:

Think about the following tips when you are picking a time-out spot:

  • Choose a place that is away from toys, people, windows, TVs, radios, and anything else your child likes.
  • If you use a separate room:
    • Remove the toys from the room
    • Make sure it is safe and your child does not have access breakable or harmful items like chemicals or detergents.
    • Do not turn off the lights during time-out and never use a closet.
    • Do not leave your young child unsupervised for long periods of time.
  • Sit in the space yourself.
    Stretch out your arms and legs. If you cannot touch anything, your child will not be able to touch anything either.

The Time-Out Chair and Other Alternatives

  • Use a sturdy adult-sized time-out chair that he cannot rock or move.
  • Avoid chairs that rock, chairs with soft cushions, and chairs with pictures and graphics on them.
  • If you don’t use a chair, you can use a blanket, cloth napkin, small mat, or designated space on the floor.
  • You can also take these with you in case you need to put your child in time-out away from home.

Click here for more information about time-out locations.

Page last reviewed: November 5, 2019