How to Effectively Use Time-Outs

When one of my children are acting out, one strategy I use to diffuse the situation is by using a time-out. This not only gives the child a chance to calm down, but it also helps me to calm down after a heated moment with my child.

I’ve tried this discipline technique many times on my children, and I can attest that it can be quite effective when it is applied correctly. Here are some guidelines that I have implemented for time-outs.

A time-out should take place away from the action, and your child should not be allowed to talk with anyone for its duration.

Have a time-out in a boring place with no toys or playmates nearby. Don't use your child’s bed or bedroom for time-outs, or you will teach your child to associate these with punishment.

Escort your child to a time-out chair without losing your temper or giving too lengthy an explanation.

If your child refuses to go into or stay in time-out, put her there yourself and physically keep her there by holding her in your lap if you must. Don’t make eye contact, start up a conversation, or deliver a lecture during time-out or you’ll defeat the purpose of a quiet time for reflection and calming down.

Use the general rule of thumb of one minute of time-out for every year of age. For toddlers, have time-outs last just a minute or two.

Begin the time-out only once calm settles in, and not while your child screams, throws a temper tantrum or speaks disrespectfully to you.

Use a timer to indicate when time-out has ended so your child associates it with a more objective source than you.

Don’t always treat time-out like an inflexible jail sentence. Once your child has calmed down and regained her composure, you can announce that time-out has ended.

Whoever gives the time-out should enforce it and let the child know when it is over.

If you need to, alternate time-out with losing privileges, for more effective results.

Use a cooling off period as an alternative to time-out. Pick a comfortable spot like a bean bag chair or sofa where your child can sit and calm down. Or, as an alternative, create an argument jar, with slips of paper indicating five or ten minutes of chore time owed to you each time your  child talks back to you or argues with your decision about something. When you need extra help around the house, pull out a slip of paper and claim back the time she owed you.

Give time-outs for toys as well. Create a forbidden toy spot—which also can be known as toy jail—an unreachable spot for toys that your child misuses or turns into weapons.

Use the same time-out rules wherever you go.

Give time-outs to yourself as well, when you need a cooling off period or want to demonstrate to your child that you have behaved in an unacceptable way yourself, such as by yelling or grabbing your child.