Skip to content

Why Use Time-Out?

Our focus should always be how we can make our children successful. Time out is a tool that can be used to change behaviors that are not successful for the child. Research tells us that we are more likely to change problem behavior when we use a positive approach as our first line of action. Our homes should be safe, positive environments for our children. Positive environments are those that:

· Focus on what children do right

· Reward positive, appropriate behaviors

· Showcase Strengths

· Maintain a ratio of 8 positives for each correction

However, sometimes we do all we can using positive approaches, yet the child still needs a correction or support in changing a behavior. Timeout can be a tool to do this, especially for younger children who have difficult time reasoning or understanding. Time out should be used last resort in changing behavior and focus on behavior that is harmful to the child or others. Time out is most effective with younger children, losing its’ power as they get older.

Effective Time-Out

Choose a Behavior: Pick what behavior or behaviors you will be using time out for and set a clear expectation. To be effective, you shouldn’t use time out as a catch-all for poor behavior, but as an intervention for a specific behavior. Anything overused will lose its’ power.

Choose a Spot: In most cases the location you use for time out should be free of stimulus and away from the action in the home. It should be a place the child cannot receive reinforcement or attention from you or others in the home. Time out is most effective if you can ignore the children during the time out period.

Choose a Length of Time: General guidelines suggest a minute per age starting at age two. Use a timer in your kitchen or on your phone so you don’t forget about the child.

Be Consistent: Each time the child exhibits the behavior you are trying to change, implement the time out immediately. Both parents need to be on the same page. Children need to be able to predict the time out will occur if he or she chooses the behavior. Be consistent with positive praise when the child is demonstrating the behavior correctly.

Don’t Threaten a Time-Out: Never say, “If you don’t stop hitting, you’ll go to time out.” There are no second chances. Because you are consistent, if the child exhibits the behavior, they go to time out.

Finishing Time-Out: Once the time out is finished, tell the child “Time out is over.” You will then have many opportunities to get the child moving in the right direction by praising them for all appropriate behaviors you see. This will shape future positive behavior.

Time-Out an Object: Timing out an object may be more effective then timing out a child. It may be timing out a favored toy. With older children this is the most effective form of time out. Electronics, cell phones and cars tend to have power with teenagers.