When Time Out Does and Doesn't Work
Benefits of Time Out
Using Time Out Effectively
- Begin at an early age (age 2 or 3). Consistency is an important element in guiding a child toward acceptable and desirable behavior. Children are capable of making connections between action and reaction at 4-5 months of age, but limitations in other areas of their development do not allow them to control their actions. However, 2-3 year olds are beginning to be able to control more of their behaviors. Beginning early helps to prevent the child from having to unlearn poor behavior.
- Calmly take your child to the time out area. Physically directing children to the time out area by taking their hand or carrying them communicates clearly who is in control. This is the ideal time to explain in a calm and loving manner why their behavior is unacceptable. For instance, you could say, "Ben, you need to sit in time out because you hurt your sister by pushing her off the chair."
- Make sure the time out area is free of distractions and is visible to you. The child needs to focus on the behavior that resulted in the time out and not on the activity around him. You can better assess the effectiveness if you can observe the child's reaction and behavior. The child's room is usually not an effective time out area.
- Discuss the reasons for time out. Ask, "Do you know why you were put in time out?" Children need to understand why they are in time out. One way is to ask. If the child cannot tell you, then explain why the behavior is unacceptable. Asking the child to explain assures you that the connection has been made.
- Set a time limit and leave the child alone to think. The time frame should reflect the behavior and the visible effectiveness. Many resources suggest formulas based on age and number of minutes. With this rationale, a child who sticks out his tongue would get the same consequence as a child who plays with matches. Some children regret their actions on the way to the time out area, while others need time to think about their actions before they understand why it brought such a consequence. Your judgement is the best way to determine the duration of time out.
- Provide reassurance. Before you allow the child to resume his activities, assure him that the behavior does not change your feelings for him. Children need to hear that you love them in spite of their behavior. A smile, hug, kiss, or one-on-one attention are just a few ways this can be accomplished.
Why Time Out Can Be Ineffective
- When the child does not understand why they are in time out. If the child does not know what behavior lead to the time out, then he or she is likely to repeat the behavior. It takes time, but it is important to ask the child to explain the error and why it is not acceptable. If children do not understand what behavior caused them to be in time out, they are likely to repeat the behavior.
- When it is not viewed as a negative consequence. Some children do not view time out as a negative consequence. Therefore, it will not be effective in stopping the behavior. You may want to first try altering the location or the amount of time. Otherwise, you may need to choose something that you know the child will definitely view as a negative consequence.
- When it is the only way to get attention. Children will opt for negative attention before they will settle for a lack of attention. In some cases, simply spending more time with your child can reduce the need for inappropriate behavior.
- Age of the child. Keep in mind that children do not process information the same as adults do. Often, a child under the age of 7 years does not have the skill to understand and reflect on why they are being punished.
Situations to be Aware of
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics http://www.healthychildren.org
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation http://www.kidshealth.org
Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
Parenting Today http://www.parentingtoday.ca
123 Time Out Advantages and Disadvantages. Attachment Parenting Canada website. Available at: http://www.attachmentparenting.ca/articles/articlea1.htm. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Disciplining Your Child. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/Disciplining-Your-Child.aspx. Updated October 10, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Time-Out as a Discipline Technique. Center for Effective Parenting website. Available at: http://www.parenting-ed.org/handouts/timeout.pdf. Accessed November 4, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 11/2014 -
- Update Date: 11/04/2014 -
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
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