How To Make Time-Out Work For You

In my opinion, time-out has gotten a bad rap.  Parents of this generation are often told to use it as a discipline method with their children, but rarely do they get instructions on how to do it correctly.  What happens is that they give time-out a try, it doesn’t work, and so they give up on it as a method for discipline.  But with a few basic instructions for parents, time-out can work and can be a great tool for disciplining your children!  Try these ten tips to help make time-out work for you:

1.  Pick a good spot for time-out before you actually have to use it!  I prefer a hallway or a chair in the dining room, but really it depends on how your home is set up.  Try to make your spot be one that you can keep an eye on while they’re there, but not one that gets them into any more trouble.  Also, be sure they aren’t able to get any attention in their spot or get into anything fun!  Going to time-out should be a punishment not a good time!

2.  The length of time-out in minutes should be equal to your child’s age in years.  If they’re three, then they should be able to sit in time-out for three minutes.

3.  Before taking your child to time-out, tell them why they are going.  For example, “Since you threw your book across the room, you are going to have to sit in time-out.”  Or, “Because you didn’t pick up your toys when I asked, you are going to have to sit in time-out.”

4.  On your way to the time-out spot, don’t say or do anything else.  Ignore their attempts to apologize, whine, or cry their way out of it.  Just walk them there.

5.  Once you get to the time-out spot, tell them to sit down.  Once they are quietly in their spot, start keeping time.  Some people use a timer in the kitchen, just figure out what works best for you.

6.  Don’t talk to your child while they’re in time-out.  If they scream and cry, just ignore them!  Come on, you’re the parent, you can do it!  I’ll admit though that this is the hardest part for me.

7.  When the timer goes off, then go to your child and tell them that they need to follow your original direction.  For example, “Now, go pick up your toys” or “Now, pick up the book you threw and put it on the bookshelf.”

8.  If they don’t follow the directions again, then you just start over and put them in time out again.  The sequence continues until they follow the original instruction.  So, you might have to put them in time-out a few times, but eventually they’ll comply if you stick with the plan!  Once they do, feel free to offer them some praise.  Nothing over the top, a simple “Nice job picking up your toys” will do.

9.  It’s also important for the adult who put them in time-out to be the one that follows through with the entire sequence.  If Mom starts the time-out, then Mom should finish it.  Same for Dad.  Your kids need to know that if you start a punishment that you are capable of following through with it.

10.  And finally, time-out really works best when you’re able to do it right when the misbehavior occurs.  Yes, that means you may be at the park and have to put them in time-out on a bench or at a friend’s house and have to set up a time-out spot in their hallway.  But putting a child in time-out hours after an infraction usually doesn’t help in the long run.

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About Dr. Polly Dunn

Child clinical psychologist, wife, and mom of four blogging about her 'Perfectly Imperfect' parenting solutions.

Comments

  1. Time out is great if they listen to you and sit. My problem with ‘time-out’ has always been that they won’t listen and sit in time out. You have to physically keep them there, otherwise they run away. What do you do for that? (Hence, time-out usually isn’t employed.)

    • You’re describing a common problem with young children, they just won’t stay in the chair. It’s a solvable problem, but one that is going to take some effort on your part. To get them to sit in time out, walk them to the time out spot. If they get out or won’t sit down, walk them back over to the spot and place them in the chair. Don’t start the timer until they are actually sitting down in time out. This process of walking them back and forth to time out can sometimes take an hour! But, after a few times of realizing that you’re not going to give in they will eventually learn that it’s easier to sit in time out for three minutes than spend an hour being walked back and forth the the time out spot!

      Some parents have also found that it is useful to give an additional punishment for not sitting in time out. For example, after their first instance of not sitting in the chair, you can say, “Sit down in the chair. If you do not sit down, you will lose your bike riding privileges for the rest of the day AND you will still have to sit in time out.” But remember, once you say you’re going to do something you’ve got to stick with it and follow through.

      Another idea is to use a mat for your child’s time out spot. It could be something like a towel, a yoga style mat, or a carpet square. They would just have to stay on their spot during time out (sitting or standing, just on the mat).

      For more tips on how to deal with time out, check out the book Parenting the Strong Willed Child. It’s got all sorts of resources to help you tackle these and other problem behaviors. Good luck and thanks for visiting!

  2. Time out actually does work for me! Took a while, but believe it or not, I used those pointers from watching Super Nanny!

  3. I always get freaked out when I read parenting tips (because I have no kids), because it just reinforces how hard it’s going to be. Even though I really want kids, and I plan on having them- sometimes I just want to ignore how hard it will until they’re here…

    I’m going to need you in like 5 years. :)

    • LOL! Once you’re a mom you just get used to the madness of it all! Don’t get freaked out by reading parenting tips, just store them away in your brain for when you do have kids. Then you’ll have lots of techniques to draw on that you learned before you even became a mom! Thanks for reading and for commenting!

      PS-If this post scared you, you should try No, I Don’t Have Any Wipes!

  4. Thanks for the tips, I have a feeling our very strong-willed 14 month old will be frequenting her time-out spot more often than I would like :)

  5. Boy do I know one… I had THE MOST AMAZING identical twin boys at age 23. She addmitingly got pregnant on purpose because she wanted me to marry her… I didn’t, and I WILL NEVER FORGET THE DAY MY LIFE BEGUN Feb. 14th 2005 9:23 P.M. my sons were born… I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN as I was so overwhelmed with love, NEVER knew we could even love ANYTHING… AS MUCH AS I LOVED THEM THAT SECOND I saw em… and if you are a parent you can imagine x’in that by two… I had a panic attack, was bauling like a baby… SHE WALKED out of the hospital at day two. LEFT ME (who had NEVER even held a baby) with… two. I have to say I have done my best and they are 6 now, and THE MOST INTELLIGENT, WISE, HANDSOM smart blonde haired blue eyed twin boys EVERYONE… I SEE wherevor we go have ever seen… Their teachers say… they are THE MOST well adjusted boys, and the only k- gardners that read and write, and already do multiplication out of their 411 classmates.. I have NEVER USED A BABY SITTER , and have became a VERY successful business owner. EVERYTHING IS FOR THE THEY ARE MY LIFE… SOME PEOPLE just LACK the ability to love anyone other than themselves I have concluded… And I KNOW~ “Love…REAL LOVE is NOT selfish) I don’t blame her as she was abandoned by her parents but wish she would be a part of their life more… good or bad … she is their “mother”… the counsler says before meeting us… she would have said a child needs both parents, but has sence changed that opinion. ME AND MY BOYS are the happiest family I have seen, and THEY know THEY ARE NOT LACKING LOVE… One parent can provide enough secuity, consistency, and love to compensate for both.

  6. Bernadette says:

    My son who is 8 years old was at my girlfriends house and was put on time out for 2 hours. She said that she thought it was appropriate because he needed to think about what he did. Do you think it was too long?

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  1. [...] happy to discuss this important issue with you.  For more tips on time-out at home visit my post How To Make Time-Out Work For You.  Best of [...]

  2. [...] When they do, choose one of two alternatives.  Either ignore the misbehavior or put them in time-out after an initial warning.  One of the reasons our children continue to misbehave is that we give [...]

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