top of page

Time Out

Time-out consists of immediately isolating a child to a boring place for a few minutes whenever he misbehaves.  It is also called quiet time, thinking time, or cooling-off time.  Used repeatedly and correctly, this technique can change almost any undesirable childhood behavior.  It is most useful for aggressive, harmful, or disruptive behavior, such as hitting or biting, that cannot be ignored.  It is unnecessary for most temper tantrums, which can and should be ignored.  The peak ages for using time-outs are 2 to 4 years.  During these years, children respond to action much better than words. Time-out can also be used for older children if removing privileges and possessions doesn’t work.

Choosing a Place for Time-Out

A Time-out Chair. If you use a chair for time-out, it should be in a boring location, facing a blank wall or corner. A good type of chair to use for time-out is a heavy one with side arms. Placed in a corner, such a chair surrounds the child with boundaries, leaves a small space for the legs, and reduces thought of escape.

A Time-out Room. The child’s bedroom is often the most convenient and safe place for time-out. Although toys are available there, your child probably will not play with them at first because he is upset about being excluded from family activities. During time-out, forbid him/her to turn on the radio, stereo, T.V. or video games.

How to Administer Time-Out

Practicing Time-out with your Child. If you have not used time-out before, go over it with your child in advance.  Tell him/her it will replace spanking, yelling, and other forms of discipline. Review the kinds of behavior that will lead to time-out.


The length of time-out

Time-out should be short enough so that your child has a chance to go back to the original situation and learn the acceptable behavior.  A good rule of thumb is one minute for every year of age up to a maximum of ten minutes. After 6 years of age, most children can be told to stay in time-out “until you can behave.”  This allows them to choose how long they stay there.  If the problem behavior recurs, make the next time-out the full length.  Setting a portable kitchen timer for the required number of minutes helps time-out succeed for children over 2 years of age.


Sending your child to time-out

Older children will usually go to time-out on their own. Younger children often need to be led there by the wrist, or in some cases, carried there protesting. If your child doesn’t go to time-out within five seconds, take him/her there. Do not lecture, spank, or answer your child’s pleas on the way to time-out. Tell him/her what he did was wrong in one sentence (ie. You bit Jenny and that is wrong.)


Behavior in Time-out

The minimum requirement for completing time-out is that your child does not leave the chair or time-out place until the time is up. Until 4 years of age, many children are unwilling or unable to comply with a quiet rule. After 4, however, quiet time is preferred but not required. You can tell your child, “Time-out is supposed to be for thinking, and to think you’ve got to be quiet.  If you yell or fuss, the time will start over.”


Releasing you child from time-out

Once time-out is over, treat your child normally and give him a clean slate.


If child refuses to stay in time-out

If your child escapes from time-out, take him/her back quickly and reset the time.  This approach works for most children.  If your child refuses to stay in time-out, take action rather than arguing or scolding.  If child refuses to stay in his/her room, consider holding the door shut for a minute or so, or placing a gate in the door way.  If an older child (>5 yr.) resists or refuses time-out, you should escalate to a consequence that matters to him/her.  “Grounded” means no T.V., radio, stereo, video games, toys, telephone access, outside play, snacks or friends over.  After grounding your child, walk away and don’t talk to him/her any more.

bottom of page