I have several friends who will tell me over and over that their child simply does not respond to time-outs.  I always ask about their time-out when they tell me this, and more often than not, I find that the concept of “time-out” is simply misunderstood and not used effectively.  Follow these steps in order to provide a positive learning experience for your child through time-outs.

  • Make sure the spot for Time Out is the same spot each time.  If that is not possible, at least be sure that it is removed from activity and other people.
  • A good rule of thumb is to allow one minute in time out for each year of your child’s life.  For my three year-old, that’s three minutes, but for my eight year-old, who rarely gets a time-out, that would be eight minutes.
  • Use an egg timer or a digital timer.  That way, the child can see how much time remains.  As a mom, I’m totally unreliable to keep track of the time myself without the aid of a timer.  I have too many other things going on!  Using a “third party” timer is a great way to make it a neutral issue.  If the child chooses to leave time-out before the timer goes off, simply put them back in time-out and reset the timer.  If leaving time-out becomes an issue, put them back in time-out and sit with them until it is over.  Do not interact with them, though.  Simply be a presence.
  • Sometimes children will test the limits and refuse to go to time-out.  Give your child a choice: sit in time out on his or her own or have time added to their time-out.  Give them about 30 seconds to think it out and make a choice.  If they still refuse, guide them into time-out and stand by the commitment to add time to their tenure there.
  • Time-out will not eliminate tantrums.  Many children will throw a tantrum in time-out.  It is a way to get attention, albeit in a negative way.  Do not give in to the drama.  Simply ignore it and it will pass.  Threatening them to stop or lecturing them on their behavior is what they want (negative attention), so do not reward their behavior in such a way. 
  • The main goal of time-out is to give children a chance to regain control of themselves.  If they are not in control of their emotions at the end of their time-out, simply tell them that the timer has gone off and once they calm down, they may come out of time-out, but not before then.
  • Always talk about the event that put them in time-out AFTER they are finished with serving their time.  It is important for children to understand why they were put there and how to avoid going back in the future.