How Long Is Too Long For Time-Out?

Dear Polly,

My four year old daughter was recently put in time-out at day camp for 20 minutes.  How long is too long and what is the correct way of doing this?

You are right to be concerned!  Twenty minutes is a long time to be in time-out for a 4 year old.  Generally, the length of time-out in minutes should be equal to the age of the child in years.  So, your 4 year old should spend about 4 minutes in time-out.   The minute to age ratio works well at home, school, daycare, camps, and anywhere else your child needs a time-out.

That being said, sometimes if a child is still fussing at the end of time-out, they may be kept in time-out until they calm down.  If the child never calms down though, this practice could lead to an extremely long and stressful time-out.

Now that you’ve had this experience, it’s important for you to talk with your child’s counselor and the director of the day camp to share your concerns.  Many schools and daycares use time-out for discipline, but it’s important to make sure that there is a protocol for how to handle children who are still acting up at the end of the time-out period.  Some ideas for that include:

  • Allow the child to sit in time out a second time (that would be a maximum of 8 minutes for your child if they sat in time-out twice in a row)
  • Take the child to the principal’s or director’s office
  • Give them a different consequence, like 5 minutes of sitting on the bench at the start of recess
  • Call the parent

As a parent you have every right to know and understand the discipline policy at your child’s school, daycare, or camp.  Often these policies are reviewed early on in the school year or camp session, but don’t be afraid to ask if you have any questions or lingering concerns.  Your child’s caregiver should be more than 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 luck!

If you’ve got a question that you’d like to see featured in a future Ask Polly post, just visit my contact page and submit your idea or question.  I look forward to hearing from you!


  1. DeeDee says

    I was at dinner with some friends and friends of friends… One lady had mentioned how she disciplines her step son and this is what she had to say, “when he was younger I use to use hot sauce on his tongue when he would talk back but now that he is older and he has grown to like the hot sauce so now i put him in time out… He can sit in time out for hours at a time.” she went on to say that “he doesn’t like it of course but I don’t mind…he could stay there all day.” I could not hold my tongue no longer so I said that is not healthy for a child to sit in time out that long. Of course she took offense to this and said that i so quick to judge her and then asked how would i handle a situation if my son came home with three yellow lights in a row… I told her time out was fine but not that long and as for me having a conversation with my child seems to work for me. but she could have even taken something a way for a period of time like tv or a game system or something… and she constantly saying how bad he was.
    My question is how long is too long to put a child in time out who is a school age child like 9.

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