Time Outs: How To Use Them Correctly

Use time outs to encourage better behavior patterns.


Time outs have been used for decades as punishments for misbehavior- starting as early as the age of two. Here’s how you can use time-outs in a positive way to encourage better behavior patterns.

What are time-outs?

A time-out is a discipline strategy that is used for children. It involves removing the child from the scene of the situation and placing them in an area/corner that is reserved for this purpose. This area is free of distractions and allows the child some quiet time to reflect on their behavior and to understand the concept of consequences.

When should I use a time-out?

  • When your child is putting himself in a dangerous situation- for example, trying to insert his fingers in an electrical socket or jumping from heights
  • If your child is hurting someone else- hitting, biting, kicking, etc.
  • When your child does not listen after you have asked them to do it more than once or twice- the situation will differ in this regard. For e.g., a time-out can be initiated if your child doesn’t listen when you have told him not to bang pots and pans when the baby is sleeping; but you can assess the situation if they are taking their time in coming inside from a play-time session.
  • If a family rule is broken, knowingly. No writing on the walls, no running on the stairs, etc.
  • Parents need to assess every situation and ask whether a time-out is the best option for the particular behavior. Sometimes, a slight reflection on why the behavior is taking place will give you a clearer answer.
    Time Outs How To Use Them Correctly 2

How to use time-outs

  • Use the age as a guideline for the number of minutes in time-out. 3 year old= 3 minutes. If you feel this isn’t effective, then increase the time by 1 or 2 minutes.
  • Time-outs are not punishments, they are a break from misbehavior. Long time-outs go against the purpose of a break.
  • Time-outs require patience for both the parent and child. If the child shouts in time-out, do not retaliate. The point is to cut communication for that time period.
  • A time-out place does not have to be an uncomfortable chair in the corner of nowhere. It can be a comfortable space for a child to gather their thoughts without unnecessary distractions.
  • Explain the rules of time-out before your child needs one. If they know that running on the street will lead to a time-out, they’re less likely to do it. However, if they are put in a time-out after running on the street (without knowing that they aren’t supposed to), then they will be confused at the consequence.
  • Children have short attention spans. Time-outs need to be implemented as soon as the behavior takes place. Not after you are done with errands. Children will forget what they are being given a time-out for.
  • You must be calm when giving a time-out, to allow the child to process that this is the expected response to the behavior.
  • Time-outs should be used alongside other discipline techniques and not as a constant response to behavior- this will make it lose its effectiveness.
  • You can devise your own rules for time-out, and can even ask your child for input. “What do you think should be done if a child hits another child?”

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